Aussie icon Cliffy Young epitomised a persistant endurance we would all do well to emulate.
POTATO farmer Clifford Young became an Australian legend in 1983, winning the ultramarathon between Sydney and Melbourne ten hours ahead of his nearest competitor.
But what made Young’s win truly astonishing was that he was 61 years old at the time, and showed up for the race wearing overalls and gumboots, minus his dentures! Cliffy, as he became affectionately known, also ran with a slow, loping shuffle, and, compared to all the younger, kitted out athletes with their fast pace, it didn’t look like he had a hope.
What Cliffy did have, though, was endurance. Over the five-day race, while his competition slept for six hours a night, Cliffy just kept running, sustaining an average speed of 6.5 km/h (4 mph), and eventually finishing almost two days faster than the previous record.
It sounds like the story of the tortoise and the hare doesn’t it?
It is also, I believe, a great analogy of the Christian life. Some of us start this journey of faith woefully ill-equipped, certainly not looking the part and maybe even very late in life. Our walk of faith may be more an ungainly shuffle than a sprint. But the lesson Cliffy teaches us, is that perseverance is more important than performance.
At the end of the first day, Cliffy was way behind the other runners. He could have given up discouraged, deciding he just wasn’t good enough. But he just kept going.
He could have got anxious about his running style compared to others’ or tried to change it to match theirs, but he just kept doing what he did well. In fact, what has been dubbed ‘the Young Shuffle’ has since been adopted by other ultra-marathon runners, as it expends less energy and is thus more sustainable.
After the race, Cliffy told reporters he had imagined that he was running after sheep, trying to outrun a storm. He focussed on the goal, he didn’t fall asleep on the job and he just kept on.
At the end, Young said he hadn’t realised there was a prize, and that he felt bad accepting it as each of the other five runners who finished had worked as hard as he had – so he split the $10,000 equally between them, keeping none. Cliffy didn’t even run for a prize! He just ran for the joy of running and the sense of accomplishment at achieving a goal. Christians can also enjoy the journey of life, exercise of faith and the sense of achievement at accomplishing things for God.
However, those of us who have put on our faith-wellies are additionally promised the prize of eternal life, which will be shared by all who successfully complete the race. With Cliffy’s example in mind, let us follow the advice of the apostle Paul:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)