By Joe Castaneda
Unless you were born ‘Down Under’, my guess is you’ve never heard of Cliff Young. He was an Australian farmer who spent almost his entire life on a farm or ranch. He didn’t acquire a lot of wealth, was prone to giving things away, and he died, unceremoniously in 2003 when cancer got the best of him. There was little to set him apart from the crowd.
But Cliff was anything but ordinary.
In 1983, what was believed to be the world’s toughest ultra marathon was an annual event held in Australia between Sydney and Melbourne. This 875km (543 miles) event took elite runners almost 7 days to complete and many who started failed to finish.
You can imagine the shock on people’s faces when on race day in 1983, a 61-year-old farmer, dressed in overalls and boots, picked up his race number and headed to the starting line. No one took Cliff Young serious or thought he had a chance of finishing the race. In fact, most people were hoping he wouldn’t even begin the event fearful that he would die over the grueling course that lay before him.
Most of the runners there had the same basic strategy. They would get up and run for about 18-hours each day, then they would sleep for 6 and get up and repeat this process until the race was over. However, no one told Cliff about this strategy.
On day one, the elite runners took off and left Cliff in the dust. To no one’s surprise, the old man was at the back of pack, practicing his odd style of shuffling along. He didn’t really “run”, he just kind of shuffled from step to step (“ruffling?”). But when the other runners bedded down for the night, Cliff continued to shuffle across Australia. He did this for two days, and after the first 48 hours of the event, Mr. Young had covered over 200 miles (321km).
Finally, Cliff laid down for a quick nap, and an hour later (yes — one hour later!) he was back up and “ruffling” along. At the end of day 3, Cliff took the lead and he never looked back.
As you can imagine, local and national news outlets picked up on this story and Cliff did not disappoint. He kept ruffling along, all the way to the finish line, beating his closest opponent by 10 hours! He had broken the previous record by 9 hours and Cliff became an instant Australian sensation.
At the finish line, Young received the winners check of $10,000 — an award he didn’t even realize was part of the race. Instead of taking it however, he deflected the praise for his work and talked about how much harder the other racers were working. He took the prize money and split it up 5 ways, giving the next five racers each $2,000; he didn’t keep a penny for himself.
In the years to come, Cliff would run crazy distances, all the way up to his 78th birthday in which he completed a 921km race (572 miles). To a man who grew up chasing sheep because his family couldn’t afford a tractor or 4-wheeler, distance was not really a problem for Cliff as a runner. He didn’t have the best “form” or style, but he could run and he could run for days!
Cliff was tough, too. In 1984 he entered the same race, but this time finished 7th. Why the big change from first to seventh? Two main reasons. First, Cliff fought severe shin splints, an injury that would sideline many other runners. But probably a tad more painful was the moment when his hip popped out of socket and he had to pop it back in, in order to stay in the event. I almost pass out just writing that sentence.
Cliff Young was an Aussie icon after the 1983 race. He entered more races, was given cars and prize money (sometimes he was awarded things just for entering the race!) and he always gave his winnings away. In his mind, someone else deserved it more than he. But for 17 years, he just raced, and he raced very well.
Most of his success was found, not in his mechanics, but in his mindset. When asked what his race tactics were the old farmer simply replied, “I run to the finish line.”
That might sum up the Overboard Life more than any other phrase: “Just run to the finish line.” The Apostle Paul, as he was approaching his execution at the hands of Rome, said this to Pastor Timothy: “I have run my race…” How did he do it? He set his eyes on the prize and he ran toward to it with all of his might. He gave up things that were hindering his progress, he sought forgiveness when he slipped up and ran off course, and he pressed on, knowing that progress — not perfection — was the goal.
Are you running toward the finish line? Are you aiming your life toward the final goal? Too many of us are running aimlessly, without purpose and without faith. We don’t know where we’re going, and we’re perfectly happy to stay on the path that’s comfortable, but leading nowhere. The Overboard Life must be aimed at pleasing God and moving toward Him in faith. It cannot be lived in the comfort of the boat, or in wandering aimlessly on the shore.
You will find your finish line, when you put your trust in God, grab the side of the boat, and take the leap onto the water. Then you can follow the sagely advice of a great Australian farmer: “run to the finish line.”
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!
For more on Cliff Young, check out this link: