Young at Heart Achievers

clip_image002Several years ago, on a flight from London to Melbourne, I sat next to a soft-spoken Scotsman from Aberdeen, who was then CEO of a business unit of Siemens.

Long haul business travellers usually seek solitude. but on this occasion we engaged in what was the beginning of a friendship.  The humility and enthusiasm of this generous high achiever was uplifting as he talked about using role models to motivate his organization. 

One he enthused about was Cliff Young, an Australian who at 61 achieved the impossible to win the  1983  Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon, a 900km run.

This amazing story saw Young, unsponsored or supported, steadfastly run the whole race with no sleep, at what appeared a shuffling pace in his Wellington boots.

A parallel is Susan Boyle, not fitting a conventional mould and winning the hearts and minds of the world with her win in “Britain’s Got Talent” Young, also a humble man, amazed everyone when against all odds he won that race. He became a hero who inspired everyone with his provincial determination and passion that actually got him there.

Today I sent a note to another long time mate and business colleague, David Brown.  David is an Englishman living in Singapore and principal in his advisory firm In age I lead David by just 2 months and being his birthday today, my note was to advise him how to handle it. He promptly sent back an article about Cliff Young. It is well worth a read.

An Unlikely Competitor:

clip_image003Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world’s most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone’s shock, Cliff wasn’t a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.

The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, “You’re crazy, there’s no way you can finish this race.” To which he replied, “Yes I can. 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.”

When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn’t even run properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer’s safety.

The Tortoise and the Hare

clip_image004Cliff Young

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn’t know that!

When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued jogging all night.

Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. To everyone’s disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping.

Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.

When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn’t know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

Continued Inspiration

In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th place. Not even a displaced hip during the race stopped him.

Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia’s border. He completed 6,520 kilometers of the 16,000-kilometer run before he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. Cliff Young passed away in 2003 at age 81. In the meantime he had found and married the love of his life Mary Howell, 39 years his junior.

Today, the “Young-shuffle” has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne race have used the shuffle to win the race. Furthermore, during the Sydney to Melbourne race, modern competitors do not sleep. Winning the race requires runners to go all night as well as all day, just like Cliff Young.

It  reminds me that regardless of age, that If we stay in the race we may still make high achievements status’ even though we may be shuffling or using unconventional methods.  Good on you Cliff and all those who follow you.

For my Thai students in Chulalongkorn University please note the reference to “?????????????????????????????? &  ??????????????????????????????”



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3 thoughts on “Young at Heart Achievers

  1. “The story of a Hare and a Tortoise race was one adjarn Khun Gordon told us when he was our specialist lecturer from Australia for our MBA class in Thailand in 2005.

    His was expert not only about business but using such stories to make a make a point. This time it was for the value of a student who kept jumping ahead and losing his way.

    In his story neither the Hare nor the Tortoise finished the race. He stopped it when he realized we knew the story already. Just then we were laughing so loud as we looked at the red face of the student now knew he was the target.

    That day we had a very interesting lesson. We also learned regardless of our language and cultures that we must the same. K Gordon was quick to say culture was no longer an excuse because he knew we all learn from the same baby stories.”

  2. HI Dr.Linne

    Thanks for such a great and stimulating comment.

    I am not surpised with such an inspirational mentor in your mother. I would guess just like Cliff Young she thought, “I can do that and why not?” I would guess too it may take a whole lifetime for time to do the things we want to do. Congratulations to her for producing her CD and also for just being 81.

    As for you, it sounds like you are now into something that you always wanted to do and join the ranks of “The Ulimate Consultants” maybe. When I look at your achievements already and do some sums, I calculate your combination of 39 books add up to about 200,000+ words. Like “Cliffy”, all were probably done without sleep and like him, you had to be focused. I am also not surprised swing dancing sometimes gets the flick.

    From what I read about you, an endearing passion seems to show up that allow others to follow you. So it seems to me with your practice runs behind you and with such a positive and energetic lifestyle, there is no reason not to go for a penultimate big one now.

    I have thought your subject and the dynamtics of economics a lot too and done some practice runs myself to compare now and other periods in time. Being alert now to the fact the time is right for you, I will now look forward to your book.

    I am also happy to be in your support team, even if I can only to be of help in this type of forum.

    Best of good luck

    Gordon Wood

    Incidentally for anyone interested in finding Dr Linne’s books my Amazon search link is here.

  3. Hi Gordon,
    At an age when any sensible consultant would take early retirement, I have just
    finished 6 books, 33 e-books and articles and am starting the work that will make the most important contribution of all I have done–the work on the future of leadership power and the Power Shift from Old Power to New Power for leaders–the underlying cause of the economic crash. ( Of course, I had to give up my swing dance competitions to have time to write all those books, but I am still a hot wild swing dancer–16 spins across the floor! Got into wholistic health 30 yrs ago, the healthy food, working out, positive beliefs, and hey, all my decisions should be that good! Plus my Mother put out her first music CD at age 85–procrastinator but very creative!

    I appreciate your creating this forum.
    Dr. Linne

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