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Former Toronto banker Kornell living the Sault outdoor dream

Mike Kornell, longtime Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club member and volunteer, enjoys outdoor activities and sports in the Sault and around the world

As a younger man, Mike Kornell was working for the Royal Bank of Canada in downtown Toronto.

In 2004 he was transferred by the financial institution to an RBC branch in Sault Ste. Marie and has never regretted it.

“I’m fully tapped into the outdoor offerings of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma,” said Kornell, speaking to SooToday.

Now in his early 60s, Kornell is retired and an avid outdoors enthusiast who loves bicycling, canoeing, kayaking and cross country skiing in the Sault and surrounding area.

Kornell is a longtime member and volunteer with the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club. 

“One of the things I’ve liked to do in the past, and going forward, is sea kayaking on Lake Superior. That involves overnight trips, or for a week, where you have your tent and food in the hatches. It’s often me, my wife Denise and a couple of friends. You just camp on the beaches, enjoy the waves and the outdoors.”

“I do a lot of backcountry canoeing too. I have a lightweight canoe and I go to Algonquin Park and Killarney Park. I portage from lake to lake. There are no other people around, so it’s space and solitude. You can hear the wolves howling at night sometimes."

Kornell has enjoyed outdoor sports in the United Kingdom and Europe as well.

He has participated in the Land's End to John o' Groats (LEJOG) Cycle Route, a bicycle trek from the southwestern tip of England to the northeastern tip of Scotland.

“That's a classic run,” Kornell said, recalling a LEJOG journey that involved himself, wife Denise and a group of 20 other bicyclists pedalling from one end of the UK to another in 14 days.

He has also competed in eight long distance Worldloppet Ski Federation cross country skiing races in several European countries, including Austria, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland.

Worldloppet races can vary in distance from 42 to 90 kilometres.  

“You’ve got thousands of people in them who are participating. You’re racing for four hours or longer against thousands of other skiers of different ages,” Kornell said.

He plans to ski in at least three more Worldloppet races - in Germany, the Czech Republic and Iceland - in 2024.

Once he completes his 10th Worldloppet event he will have reached Worldloppet Master status.

Kornell also plans to compete in the 50th annual Slumberland American Birkebeiner - another Worldloppet event - in February, stretching 54 kilometres across Wisconsin.

“I’ll be doing that for the 10th time in February. They've got close to 14,000 skiers in that, in the backwoods.”

“Certainly I’m very competitive for my age but I’m not on the podium. I’m strong but I’m not a trophy winner. I just like having an active lifestyle as a boomer,” Kornell said.

He has travelled the world but his heart is in the Sault, its people and outdoor activities.

He was transferred by RBC from the Sault to Timmins in 2009, but having experienced this community and its benefits, Kornell and wife Denise planned to return upon his retirement from the bank.

“We always had planned to come back so we bought some land near Fourth Line with the intention of coming back and building a house on it. We’re near Hiawatha so we’re in a beautiful part of the Sault. I can bike, ski and snowshoe from our backyard.”

Kornell returned to the Sault to retire in 2019.

“I left the concrete towers of downtown Toronto and I got involved with this community. I love the quality of life, easy access, fresh air, the outdoors, the self propelled activities and the four seasons.”

He is also drawn to the Finnish and Estonian population of the Sault.

Born in South Africa to Estonian parents who fled Soviet rule, Kornell’s engineer father moved his family to Canada in 1965, settling in Toronto.

“The older you get you realize how important fitness is to enjoying your later years, your retirement years, to be as fit as possible so you can enjoy life to the max. The Sault is central to that.”

“It’s very central to a lot of land based or water based activities and you’ve got passionate people who are connected to the outdoors.”

“I like clearing my mind, working my body, feeling fit, feeling strong, feeling the connection with the outdoors with all my senses engaged,” Kornell said, adding it’s never too late to get up from sitting behind a desk and get some exercise in a community with a lot of outdoors activities to offer.

“I’m a prime example. I’m pushing my old body here but I'm living the dream in Sault Ste. Marie."

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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