the gap

In light of the last few posts over here which have left me a bit disheartened, I thought I’d post something more uplifting.  Yet, it’s still kind of sad as well as beautiful.  At any rate… Yay, Don Ritchie!

HERO: Man Lives on cliff and talks down suicide jumpers…for last 50 years

Max Read

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Meet the Australian Who’s Saved 160 People from Suicide.

Don Ritchie lives across the street from the most famous suicide spot in Australia: A cliff known as “The Gap.” Most people would move, but Ritchie’s stayed for almost 50 years—saving an estimated 160 people from suicide.

So what’s his big secret? Ritchie wakes up every morning and looks out the window for “anyone standing alone too close to the precipice.” If he sees someone who looks like they might be contemplating a jump, he walks over and… strikes up a conversation.

He just gives them a warm smile, asks if they’d like to talk and invites them back to his house for tea. Sometimes, they join him.

“I’m offering them an alternative, really,” Ritchie says. “I always act in a friendly manner. I smile.”

Ritchie’s house might be the worst real estate ever. One person a week commits suicide at the “the Gap,” the cliff he lives across from. It’s protected only by a small, one-meter fence, despite its legendary reputation as a suicide spot dating back to the 1800s.

But the former life insurance salesman says he doesn’t feel “burdened” by the fact that people are always contemplating jumping to their deaths outside his house. In fact, he and his wife Moya see it as a blessing: “I think, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we live here and we can help people?'”

Obviously, he’s not always successful, and, at times, he’s had to physically restrain people from jumping while Moya calls the police. But it isn’t necessarily traumatic:

Despite all he has seen, he says he is not haunted by the ones who were lost. He cannot remember the first suicide he witnessed, and none have plagued his nightmares. He says he does his best with each person, and if he loses one, he accepts that there was nothing more he could have done.

Ritchie, who basically sounds like the nicest guy in the entire world, is 84, and has spent much of the last year battling cancer. But, as you might expect for a dude who’s managed to live across from a… tragic place, and not become a casualty himself, he’s optimistic: “I imagine somebody else will come along and do what I’ve been doing.” I hope so.

cliff young

The Legend of Cliff Young: The 61 Year Old Farmer Who Won the World’s Toughest Race

The legendary story of Cliff Young is already known to many runners. If you’re aren’t familiar with it, you’re in for a fascinating read.

Cliff Young waving during ultra marathon

Cliff Young

An Unlikely Competitor

Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world’s most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone’s shock, Cliff wasn’t a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.

The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, “You’re crazy, there’s no way you can finish this race.” To which he replied, “Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d always catch them. I believe I can run this race.”

When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn’t even run properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer’s safety.

The Tortoise and the Hare

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn’t know that!

When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued jogging all night.

Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. To everyone’s disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping.

Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.

When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn’t know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

Continued Inspiration

In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th place. Not even a displaced hip during the race stopped him.

Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia’s border. He completed 6,520 kilometers of the 16,000-kilometer run before he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. Cliff Young passed away in 2003 at age 81.

Today, the “Young-shuffle” has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne race have used the shuffle to win the race. Furthermore, during the Sydney to Melbourne race, modern competitors do not sleep. Winning the race requires runners to go all night as well as all day, just like Cliff Young.