CLIVE Cornish is a familiar face to many across the Welsh capital, if not a familiar name. Most will simply know him as the “man with the cross”.
For the past decade Clive has spent much of his time walking, running, and climbing his way around Wales and other countries with a cross on his back.
To understand why Clive runs, walks and climbs with his cross, it is important to understand how his life has unfolded so far. Cardiff born and bred, Clive’s upbringing was far from conventional.
“I found my faith later in life. I was brought up in a disadvantaged family alongside my brother and sister. Our father left when I was one – or at least that was what I was told,” Clive tells me as we meet in his native Ely.
“The pressures of life were forced upon me from a very young age. There was nothing enjoyable about it for me and I quickly turned to drugs and drink as a way of coping. I attempted to take my own life aged 14. It wasn’t a cry for help, I’d just had enough.”
As Clive grew up he moved to the Cathays area of the city and befriended a pair of disabled brothers a few years older than him.
“One day their mother asked me if I would like to go to church with them. I had a Catholic childhood and believed in God but I wasn’t interested. In the end I went along and to be honest I sniggered through the whole service.”
“The vicar heard me and stopped mid-sentence to talk to me. He leaned in close and asked me if I knew Jesus.
“No” I said, of course I didn’t. Then he asked me if I’d like to know him. I thought, if I can know him then, yeah I suppose I would. The vicar asked me if I believed that Jesus died for me and if he rose again. I answered yes to both and apologised for my sins. It was an instant change.”
From that moment on, Clive says he has felt a change in his outlook on life. While admitting that each day he faces a choice not to slip back into his old life, he now has a far happier mind.
Even after his conversion Clive struggled, and he was sent to prison for three and a half years for armed burglary. But once released in 1994, Clive hasn’t looked back, and that’s where his cross-bearing efforts come into his story.
It seems ludicrous. The cross measures 12ft by 6ft and weighs in at over 50lb after all.
You might expect such a person to be a hulking brute of a man, however when I meet Clive I am surprised to see a man with a relatively wiry frame. He is clearly strong, but it’s that sort of strength that many men in their forties, Clive is 48, seem to have after a life of hard manual labour.
The first time I saw Clive was at the Cardiff Half Marathon last month. Here was this man standing ready at the start line outside the castle happily talking to spectators despite the prospect of lugging a huge wooden cross around the 13.1mile course.
But that was a small challenge for Clive compared to what he has already accomplished. The half marathon was the culmination of an intense month in which he had walked from Holyhead to Cardiff, across the entirety of Wales. For good measure, he also climbed the three peaks of Snowdon, Cadair Idris, and Pen y Fan along his route.
This was of course with his trusty cross straddling his shoulder.
“I love the half marathon in Cardiff. The atmosphere is just amazing and people always want to have a chat. I always try to run the first part of the race and then after that I love to stop and talk to people, I have never had a bad reaction when running with the cross,” said Clive.
“I’ve entered for the World Half Marathon Championship’s in March and my aim is to beat my PB which I set last month. It was the first time I had gone under three hours.”
You would assume that running, walking, and climbing these great distances with the cross would require an intense training programme, but Clive is bashful about his training routine.
“I always set out with the intention to train, I really do. But life gets in the way, I’ve got a family and children, and it’s hard to find the time to train. The week before a race I’ll run to the Heath Hospital and back but that’s it. I’m a pretty active person anyway, so it’s not an issue for me.”
The start of Clive’s quest to spread his message through his giant cross took place in Jerusalem in July 2007. He undertook a monumental walk from the Israeli city to Rome, a distance of many hundred miles.
“I did the walk with my friend Lathan as we wanted to trace the steps of the apostle Paul when he was taken prisoner by the Romans.”
“It was unbelievably difficult, the heat was immense. We were drinking litres and litres of water every day but we were constantly thirsty. We sat at a bus stop in Israel somewhere catching our breath and I stood up ready to carry on, but Lathan said he wanted to sit a minute longer. As ridiculous as it sounds, that minute was pure bliss,” said Clive.
The reception that Clive and his cross received as he made his epic journey was mixed to say the least. From being spat at by locals in Jerusalem to being touched for good luck throughout Italy, it is clear that the cross provokes a great reaction from all people.
“In Italy people would ask me where I was going, and once I’d told them I was heading to Rome, they thought I was meeting the Pope. People kept falling at my feet hoping to win good favour with the Pope.”
When I ask how his long walks became longer runs, he simply says that he and his friend were walking on their way to Rome, and he jokingly said “we could do a marathon with this thing,” and that was it.
I ask Clive about the motivation behind the cross. There are many people who have a strong faith and are also avid runners, but Clive is the only person I’ve come across who has combined the two to such prominent effect.
“For me, the cross is a way to meet people where they are. I’d love all people to find faith and have that in their lives, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for me for the first 20 years of my life. I think the cross is a great way to start a conversation with people without having annoy them by knocking on door and ramming it down their throats.”
Looking ahead, it seems as though Clive is still keen to continue his quest with the cross. He is already signed up for next years World Half in Cardiff, and would one day like to walk around the UK in 80 days.
I for one can’t wait to see Clive dragging himself and his cross through the streets of Cardiff once again in the World Half Marathon Championships in March. Next time you see Clive with his cross stop and have a chat. Trust me, he’ll only be too happy to stop and meet you where you are.