by Kerry Hearne
Cliff Young was first and foremost a bushie. He worked his potato farm with his brother Sid and amazed the locals by running around his property in his long work pants and gumboots - at least 30 kilometres every day. A few times a week he would run into town to post a letter, pick up something he needed or just do it for the sake of the run. It was about a 40km round trip!
In 1983, at the age of 61, Cliff entered the inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. The field attempting the 875 kilometre race included some of the best ultra marathoners in the world. No-one had ever heard of Cliff Young.
Cliff began with little fanfare. The media commented occasionally on the wiry little Victorian with his strange shuffling running style and his unconventional attire. However, the favourites took the early lead and enjoyed most of the media attention.
One morning, early in the race, Cliff's support team mistakenly woke him at 1am instead of the usual 5am and he began his day's run. When it took so long for the sun to come up they realised what had happened and told Cliff. Cliff said it didn't matter, he felt fine and kept going. He passed all the other competitors and repeated this practice each morning. By the time the other runners realised what had happened, it was too late. Cliff had an unassailable lead and crossed the finish line in Melbourne well ahead of his nearest rival.
What had started out as a race that ignited mild interest on the east coast of Australia became an event watched by millions all over the country. Everyone cheered Cliff on and shared in the excitement of seeing an unlikely champion's amazing achievement.
Cliff dreamt of setting the record for running around Australia. On his last attempt at age 76, he covered 6,520 kilometres before falling ill and being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
While Australians will always remember Cliff's amazing achievements in running, he was probably admired more for his down to earth, unassuming and quiet ways. He shared the $10,000 prize money from the race with the other competitors because he figured they had all "done it pretty tough….". That was Cliff…
Kerry Hearne is a regular contributor to Life In Legacy.