Everyone Loves a Good Underdog

This past Saturday, a few friends and I decided to take a trip to Toronto’s beach area to soak up some sun and enjoy the beautiful weather. When we arrived,  however, we noticed that despite the blistering hot day, no one was in the water. Seeing the red flags waving from the lifeguard stations, we asked one of the lifeguards what the problem was.

“Water’s closed for swimming”, he said. “E-coli levels are 4 times the legal limit.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I moved from a province known as “Canada’s Ocean Playground”,  to this?

With nothing to do but lay on the sand and curse those who were lucky enough to escape to cottage country for the weekend, we began chatting about the 100km trail walk for charity one of my friends recently completed, where she walked with a group of 3 other people for 28 hours straight. While discussing how crazy amazing this was, another one of my friends brought up the story of Cliff Young, the Australian potato farmer who won the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983 at 61 years of age.

Say whaaaaat?

Instantly, my interest was piqued. Ever since Kim started hooking up with Kanye and pumping her beautiful face full of injectables, I’ve been on the hunt for a new life model… and this Cliff guy seemed like a potential candidate.

Intrigued, I did a little investigatory journalism and learned that Cliff showed up at the race wearing overalls, wool socks and work boots. When asked if he had done any training for the event, Cliff replied that his only training had involved corralling sheep over his 2,000 acre family farm for days on end. Growing up, they couldn’t afford horses or tractors, so he was forced to run around after the sheep every time a storm came, sometimes for up to two-three days at a time. This, he believed, was as good a training regime as any.

People laughed at Cliff, dubbing him crazy and immediately discounting him from the race. And when the gun went off, it seemed they might be right. The other athletes immediately burned past Ol’ Cliff, leaving him in their dust. It even appeared that Cliff didn’t know how to run properly- his gait resembling more of a slow, awkward shuffle than an actual jog. But in the end, it was Cliff who had the last laugh. By denying himself sleep along the 875km course and keeping a slow, steady pace the entire way, he gained ground while his competitors were sleeping and ultimately emerged the victor- beating out elite marathoners from all over the world to win the title.

Man, that is some real-life Tortoise and The Hare sh*t right there.

Cliff went on to become an instant star in Australia and around the world. And his weird shuffling technique? It was ultimately adopted and used by many successful ultramarathoners and dubbed the “Young-Shuffle”, praised for its ability to expend far less energy than regular running.

I think Cliff’s story appealed to me so much not only because I, too run at the speed of molasses and look like a dying cat while doing so, but because I’m always a sucker for a good underdog story. Whatever the scenario, I always root for the unlikely candidate… and no matter how many  triumphant underdog sports movies I watch, it will never be enough.  Rocky. The Karate Kid. Rudy. Remember the Titans. Little Giants.  I cry like a baby every every single god damn time.

I know I’m not alone in this. As a society we love underdogs, and popular media has proven this time and time again. Uhh.. Susan Boyle anyone??

Or how about 86-year-old gymnastics champ Johanna Quaas?

Damn. bitch is flexible.

However deluded we may be, underdogs make us believe that anything is possible and serve as a great human interest piece while doing so.

Anyway, back to Cliff. I haven’t been able to get his Young-shufflin’, wool sock wearin ass out of my mind all day, and quite frankly I’m starting to like his chances in the unofficial Breezyk Life Model Search 2012. Next time I am on the treadmill, swallowing back puke and thinking “ummm, kinda wanna stop now” (aka: every time), I’m going to think about poor sleep-deprived Cliff, trawling the Australian countryside for sheep for the third day in a row. Cliff probably wanted to stop too.. but guess what? he didn’t. Because god damn it, a storm was brewing. And he couldn’t live with the blood of 2,000 innocent sheep on his hands. And you know what? I can’t either.  Or at least I can’t live with a fat ass. And that’s kind of the same thing.

Question of the Day: Who’s your favourite underdog?

And p.s. – just to say it:

Aww yeah!

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7 thoughts on “Everyone Loves a Good Underdog

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  1. No underdogs come to mind right away but I def do get a bit teary-eyed when the written-off loser makes a miraculous comeback, seconds from the end of play.
    P.S I am also proficient in the Dying Cat Run. That’s probably why I never run…unless running away FROM things or TOWARDS things. That’s the only acceptable reason for moving with speed in my book 🙂

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  2. The world’s greatest underdog is a British national hero – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_the_eagle

    I can’t stand Susan Boyle, but that baby pic is fantastic, by the way.

    About the running… did you know that running isn’t actually that good for burning calories/losing weight?

    You should get some small, 1kg weights, and make use of them for your arms, shoulders, and chest. Don’t freak out at the thought of looking like Arnie, they won’t be heavy enough for that, and you don’t have the testosterone either!

    Doing weights can burn more calories than cardio. Have a look at this link for some weight exercises for the ladies – http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/exercise/home-workout.htm

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  3. I have a love/hate relationship with underdogs. My favorites always have to do with when one sports team is supposed to destroy another team and talks smack only to be shown up during the big game. Alabama versus Miami in 1992 football. The Mavericks versus the Heat a couple of years ago. And more. To me, it’s always a lesson in humility more than overcoming.

    However, I also am made uneasy by underdog stories because underdog is often another term for “the exception” and instead of doing the things that will make people excel at something, they instead look for proof that they can do whatever they want, no matter how destructive, and somehow come out on top. I like your runner guy. He’s an exception because he worked harder and smarter. That’s what underdogs should really be.

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  4. I like an underdog who ultimately fails. Who wants to see someone below them pass them and become successful? No thanks. I need to be the best.

    I guess I would pick Underdog the superhero dog as my favorite. As great as he becomes he’ll never be able to open a jar.

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