In A Nutshell
The story of the tortoise and the hare is a well-known children’s tale that aims to teach the importance of steadiness over speed. While it makes sense in theory and might even have been true in ancient times, it doesn’t necessarily hold true in today’s world. One notable exception is the case of Cliff Young, who went on to win a race the exact same way as the tortoise in the tale, with his competitors even sleeping midway to let him take over.
The Whole Bushel
The story of the steady tortoise winning against the fast hare shows up in many cultures in the same form. The hare challenges the tortoise to a race, overestimates his own abilities and decides to sleep midway, and is eventually defeated by the tortoise who slowly but determinedly keeps at it till the end. It’s aimed at telling the young ones the importance of steadiness over speed, though growing up makes one realize that speed actually does make a difference in the competitive world. Except there is at least one person who has proven the tale right, and in almost the same conditions as the classic tortoise and hare.
From 1983–1991, an Australian race called the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon, a journey undertaken by professional athletes because it covered a distance of more than 800 kilometers (500 mi). Cliff was a 61-year-old potato farmer who had no prior experience as an athlete and was laughed at when he first showed up at the venue to take part in the race of 1983. He didn’t have any professional gear to complete the thing, let alone win it, and was quickly left behind by faster athletes on the first day of the race itself. What he wasn’t aware of was that the race included scheduled stops for sleep, and while the rest of the athletes took their breaks according to schedule, Cliff nudged on into the night.
You probably know exactly where this is going.
Cliff eventually took over the athletes and maintained his lead for the rest of the marathon, going on to winning it. He entered the race as a nobody and finished it a national hero. He had told the press before the race that he was used to the kind of extended running the ultramarathon demanded, as he had to stay out for days fetching sheep at his farm. He just thought of the race as just another day chasing sheep while at the same time trying to outrun a storm, which enabled him to carry on without any considerable rest throughout the race.
Australia was so impressed by the feat that a race was named for him, the Cliff Young Australian Six-Day Race, among plenty of other things. He remains an inspiration for athletes to this day, and even set the world age record for completing a six-day race held in Victoria in 2000. While the tortoise and hare story just makes sense as a children’s fairy tale to most of us, Cliff Young was the guy who proved, once and for all, that slow and steady might actually win in some grown-up cases as well.