Cliff Young had a dream. He wanted to win a marathon. Not just any marathon, Cliff wanted to win the annual 543.7-mile ultra-marathon by racing from Sydney to Melbourne. Considered one of the most grueling races of all time, this race requires participants to run 18 hours a day to complete it. Almost all participants are specially-trained, world-class athletes under 30 years old, but Cliff was 61. Learn about how he accomplished his dream.
On the day of the race, most thought Cliff was a spectator. He certainly didn’t look like the other runners. He was wearing overalls and gumboots. The Australian sheep farmer shocked everyone by paying his entry fee and joining the other runners.
“You’re crazy!” reporters said. “There’s no way you can run this race.”
"Yes I can,” responded Cliff. “See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race."
The gun went off, and so did Cliff. But instead of smooth, loping strides like the specially trained athletes, he shuffled along in his work boots. It wasn’t long before the professional athletes left him and his peculiar shuffle behind.
The next morning, to everyone’s surprise, Cliff was not only still in the race, he had run all night without stopping. The next night, he did the same thing. Asked about his racing strategy, he said, “I plan to complete the race without stopping.”
Every morning, when the professional athletes resumed their running, they discovered Cliff had moved closer during the night. By the final night, he had not only caught the younger athletes, he had passed them. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line, setting a new course record.
Cliff was surprised to discover there was a $10,000 prize, which he gave away to other runners. He wasn’t in it for the money; he wanted to accomplish a dream and show others that age is no excuse for not trying.
After Cliff’s race, other runners adopted what they called the “Young-shuffle,” which is now considered the most energy-efficient way of racing. Three subsequent competitors also won the Sydney to Melbourne race using this technique, but only Cliff won the race in overalls and gumboots.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe, like Cliff Young, you should go for it. You may surprise yourself and everyone around you—and inspire the next generation.
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