In 1984 62 year old Cliff Young took 7th place in one of the world’s most grueling ultra-marathons; Australia’s 543 mile endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne. The winner needs about five days to complete a punishing course usually only attempted by
intensely trained world-class athletes half Cliff’s age.
Cliff placed 7th because he displaced a hip during the race. The year before he won.
In 1983 Cliff showed up in overalls and work boots. To most he looked like a spectator. But then Cliff picked up his race number and headed for the starting lines.
Curious athletes questioned Cliff and cautioned him that there was no way he could finish the race.
Cliff knew better. He was raised on a farm too poor to afford horses or tractors. Growing up it was his responsibility, whenever the storms would roll in, round up 2000 sheep spread across 2,000 acres. Sometimes he had to run for two or three days to round up all the sheep.
Cliff did not really run, he just shuffled along. When the race started Cliff was quickly left behind.
Most participants ran 18 hours a day and slept the remaining 6 hours. On the morning of the second Cliff was still in the race. But not only that; he had been jogging all night. Asked about his tactics Cliff claimed he would run straight through without sleeping.
By the final night Cliff had passed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and even set a new course record.
He was genuinely surprised when he received the $10,000 awarded for first place. Cliff hadn’t known about the prize. He gave all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.
In 1997, aged 76, Cliff attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia’s border. He completed 4051 miles before he was forced to stop when his single crew member became ill. Cliff Young died in 2003 at age 81.
At least three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne Marathon have won using the energy saving “Young Shuffle”. Competitors don’t sleep during the race anymore, just like Cliff; the unlikely champion.
One can imagine Cliff resenting the hard work he did rounding up
sheep, but instead he applied what he had learned and changed the way
people do things. While we may never imitate Cliff’s accomplishments it may be that, like Cliff, some unlikely experience will have prepared us to achieve in some unlikely manner.