Cliff Young’s Story: The Brilliance Of Persistence

A Critical Doer works as hard to develop strength of character as strength of talent 

A Critical Doer understands time; long and short view 


Persistence and brilliance…are they the same or different?  I’ll let you be the judge as you read the amazing story of a man named Cliff Young.

Blogger Ann Voskamp ( recently wrote a post about a bachelor farmer named Cliff Young.  At the time this story took place, Cliff chewed tobacco…Cliff tended sheep…Cliff never trained for an athletic event…Cliff had false teeth…Cliff shattered the world record for a 544 mile ultra-marathon wearing overalls and rubber work boots…Cliff was 61 years old.

Voskamp describes a rather comical sight as Cliff showed up to the ultra-marathon unannounced…he just wanted to give it a try.  Without training, sponsorship, people to assist him during the run, or even running shoes, he just wanted to give it a try.  His experience of chasing sheep, sometimes for days at a time over the family’s 2000 acre spread, was the only thing that remotely resembled preparation.  Voskamp even says he took his false teeth out to run “because they rattled when he ran.”

According to Voskamp, the trained athletes planned to run for 18 hours and sleep 6 (camping on the roadside) until the finish.  In a recreation of “The Tortoise and The Hare” Cliff was left behind from the start but as the hares stopped to rest…Cliff kept moving.  Some accounts say Cliff never slept during the race…others suggest he may have slept a couple of hours…but the point is when others stopped, Cliff was still moving forward.  Cliff continued to move forward for 544 miles to beat the world record and his nearest competitor by 9 hours.  He even split the $10,000 prize equally amongst all the runners, keeping none for himself.

Cliff’s story highlights a phenomenon that’s played out constantly on the grand stage of life.  We are all enamored with brilliance, but closer examination of the facts reveals the source of success was simply persistence…refusing to stop until the objective is achieved.  There is nothing brilliant about not training and wearing rubber boots to run 544 miles.  It is brilliance through persistence to take one step forward…and make that same decision an estimated 1.5 million consecutive times over the course of 544 miles.

The lesson for us is that like many things in life, the victory was decided before the start.  Although Cliff didn’t have formal athletic training, he had decades of running experience from tending his sheep.  The cumulative effect of those life experiences prepared him physically, mentally, and spiritually for the race.  From the very start, Cliff committed to the finish.

As Cliff replayed the moral lesson of the tortoise and the hare, he proved again that starting is not the key to becoming a Critical Doer.  The next time you’re in a room of people, ask how many of them started anything from a business to a diet…then ask how many finished.  The entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, etc that we often hail as brilliant were the ones that simply took one more step forward in the face of adversity when others were unwilling to make the same decision.

As you know by now, the central tenet of Critical Doer philosophy is that the only future we have is the one we’re willing to make for ourselves.  Cliff Young demonstrated very eloquently without using a single word that character more than talent determines whether a start will be matched with a finish.

Take Cliff Young’s story to heart as you contemplate starting a new venture.  I challenge you to challenge yourself that before you commit to starting that you also commit to finishing…even if that decision has to be reaffirmed 1.5 million times before your goal is reached.  As Rocky Balboa said “that’s how winning gets done” and it’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: May 2, 2015 — 3:35 pm

1 Comment

  1. Many years ago, as I was driving along, I saw a sign in front of a church that read, “Success is getting up one more time than you fall down.” As soon as I read it, I thought of my dad. Starting in his 40’s, my dad’s health spiraled downhill with circulatory deterioration, leg amputation, and strokes. However, I have always been amazed at how he kept a positive outlook through all the debilitations, surgeries and setbacks. One of his favorite sayings was, “I might give out, but I’m not gonna give up!”. At 67 years of age, he did finally “give out” due to congestive heart failure, but his spirit never allowed him to “give up”. I try to keep that church sign in mind when I’m faced with difficult problems or tasks. Sometimes you gotta back up and reaccess, sometimes you gotta detour and sometimes you gotta punt, but there is almost always a way forward…you just have to have a destination in mind.

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