The first time I heard the true story, on which The Pumpkin Runner is based, I was attending a workshop led by my friend, Jim Halm. To demonstrate perseverance, Jim told the story of Cliff Young, a 61-year-old farmer who had entered a 500 mile race from Melbourne to Sydney. All Jim had was a clipping from a sports magazine, just one paragraph.
When I heard this heartwarming story, I knew I wanted to write about it. I used this as the base for my story, but almost everything else is pure imagination.
What I discovered in my research was that Cliff was the oldest of 11 runners. Amidst ridicule, Cliff won the inaugural (the very first!) Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. He took two days off the record and shared his winnings with all the other runners!
In stories, truth and imagination often mix. When I wrote this story, I could find very little information about Cliff. Today, you can find lots of information on the Internet, but there are many discrepancies. Sometimes that's what happens when people are captured by a story. They add a little here, change a little there. The story becomes part fable, part legend, part myth, part truth. My book, THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, is fiction. It was inspired by Cliff Young, his love of running for the joy of it, and his perseverance.
The Australian Information Service informed me that Cliff trained for the race by running in gumboots around the farm, herding cattle. They told me he didn't actually run the race in gumboots and overalls, but I thought it made a good story. So that's how my character Joshua Summerhayes runs the race in my book. However, if you look on the Internet today, some sources say Cliff actually ran the race in gumboots and overalls. That's not true. If you look at video of the 1983 race, you'll see otherwise. Other videos do show him running/training on his farm in gumboots.
When I wrote THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, my sources said Cliff Young was a potato farmer and helped his brother raise cattle. I decided to make my character, Joshua, a sheep rancher because there are lots of sheep ranchers in Australia and because I thought sheep would make great illustrations. But as I write this today, in late 2011, I can find sources that say Cliff was a sheep rancher, that he had both cattle and sheep on his farm. I'm not sure what is true. I did find a newspaper article from the Melbourne Herald, dated April 7th, 1983, that describes Cliff as a potato farmer. Another 1987 newspaper article describes Cliff chasing cows in his gumboots. Maybe some of those web writers read my book and decided Cliff should be a sheep rancher!
That same 1983 newspaper article says, "It appears that 'Little Cliffy' will have about 11 opponents in the event." But some information on the web today says there were 150 runners. That's just not right. Sometimes it's hard to find the truth when you're researching. I'm glad my story is fiction!
Cliff Young passed away in 2003, but he remains a folk hero in Australia. Many stories, some true and some not so true, are told about him.
This book is dedicated to Cliff Young. I never met Mr. Young, but I did visit Australia, two years after the book was published.