Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Adventurer Pat Farmer shares his life lessons

Pat Farmer giving his speech after formal dinner

Record-breaking adventurer Pat Farmer urged Warrane residents to do whatever they could to help the rest of humanity by becoming leaders in their own fields when he spoke at the College on Wednesday 27 March, 2013.

Mr Farmer, a multiple world record holder for endurance running who has run around Australia, and across Vietnam and North America (twice), is the only man to have run from the North Pole to the South Pole.

Also a successful politician who was a Federal member of parliament from 2001 to 2010, he said his message to all Warrane residents was: “You can all achieve whatever you set out to achieve by taking one step at a time”.

Mr Farmer said he believed that too many people go into politics and into “different streams of their working life” for all the wrong reasons: “for power, for their own personal glory, for money – it’s all about them.”

“In my valedictory speech when I left parliament,” he said, “I was trying to explain to my colleagues how important it was that they realised that this was not about them but it was about using the power that was bestowed on them to make a difference to other people’s lives.”

This meant struggling “to save people’s lives, to protect their lives, to protect the quality of their lives, and to really understand how powerful their role was”.

Commenting on the case of former champion cyclist Lance Armstrong who was exposed for taking performance-enhancing drugs, Mr Farmer said Armstrong’s case was the same as that of many powerful people.

“They get to the level of high achievement because of the hard work and the dedication that they have put into it all,” he said. “They feel that they have changed their identity and have become something that everybody else in the world wants. They start believing their own press – all the things that other people are saying about them and they forget that they are just a single ordinary human being. “They got where they are because of hard work and dedication and through giving it their best. And if that is not good enough to win a race, then so be it. Being a winner is all about being the best that you possibly can be – not the best you can be with enhancement from other sources – but the best that you can be.”

Mr Farmer said the problem with many people is that when they reach the top they “will do anything to stay there”. “Some people, like career politicians, all they have ever done is politics and the fear of losing their seat or losing their position is so great that they will do anything to hang on to it. So they start compromising their values and they start going with the numbers as opposed to standing up for what they truly believe in.

“I have always thought that if people don’t want to vote for me because of who I am, then so be it.” Mr Farmer said the reason he had “got to where I am in every single aspect of my life” was because he had stayed true to who he is.

He shared with Warrane residents the story of how he came to be who he is now. He spoke of the dedication and hard work of his working class parents who struggled to give him and his siblings a start in one of western Sydney’s most underprivileged suburbs. His mother worked as a cleaner and cook for Catholic priests and nuns to pay the fees at the local Catholic school.

He also spoke of the inspiration of his wife, Lisa, who he met as a teenager when the two of them were involved in Rotoract, Rotary, Toastmasters and other community service organisations.

Lisa, who had a heart condition, died at the age of 34, leaving Mr Farmer with two children to raise – his daughter Brooke aged two years and his son Dylan, aged 10 months. He said he then had to learn to be both mum and dad to his children and it was then that he had reflected on his Catholic faith which helped him to make sense of life and all its challenges.

“All of a sudden it hit me,” he said, “This was what mum and dad were talking all about, this was why they sent me to the school I went to, this is what they were preparing me for.

“You see, you can get prepared for academia, you can become the brightest mind in the world, but at the end of the day you are still a human being, you are still flesh and bones and you still need to find answers to other questions about your own self.”

Mr Farmer said that everyone is good at something, everyone has God-given talents and gifts. “But the question is why we have these gifts. And that is what I am trying to answer with my running. I am trying to answer why on earth I am here … there must be something that I need to do with my life. Every single day that I wake up, I ask myself that question.”

Mr Farmer went on to give an action-packed, and sometimes humorous, description of how he completed the world’s longest ultra-marathon, the “Pole to Pole Run” in 2012, raising $100 million for Red Cross International and learning some profound life lessons – a story he has told in his recently published book Pole to Pole : One Man, 20 Million Steps.

He said one of his inspirations was Australian long-distance runner, Cliff Young, who won the Melbourne to Sydney race at the age of 63 “showing that age is no barrier”.

“I proved to everybody what a human being can do and what the human spirit could do.” Mr Farmer said, “There were many times that I doubted myself and I would throw that doubt out of my mind and push on regardless.

“It was because I always told myself – and this is the secret – I might be washed up, I might be gone, I might not make it to Argentina, I might not make it to the South Pole, but I do know, regardless of how tired I am, I can take just one more step, and that is all I did. I just kept taking just one more step, just one more step. Ten months and 13 days after I kicked off, I achieved what I had set out to do.

“And so my message to each one of you is quite a simple one, but it is important. If you don’t remember anything else I have said here tonight, please don’t forget these words: there is no force on this earth greater than your personal will. If you want to do something with all your heart you can and you will find a way. But if you don’t truly want to do it, you will simply find an excuse.

“So what I want to say to each and every one of you in this room tonight is: figure out what it is you want with all your heart – not what other people want for you, but what you want with all your heart, and remember, no excuses.”

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]