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

The man who ran from the North to the South Pole

On Wednesday 20 March 2019, Patrick Farmer AM joined the young men of Warrane College for their formal dinner. An ultra-marathon athlete, he holds multiple world records for endurance running but is probably best known for being the only man who has run continuously from the North Pole to the South Pole. During his 30-year running career, he has raised millions of dollars for different causes including Lifeline, Cancer Council, Australian Red Cross and Diabetes Australia.

Farmer also served eight years as a Member of Australia’s Parliament, and has been awarded titles such as ‘Achiever of the Year’ (2000) awarded by Prime Minister John Howard, and National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year (2012). These days he is also a motivational speaker.

Despite all that, he told the boys, “I still don’t really know who I am; I’m still trying to figure out what I’ll be when I grow up. And I mean that sincerely because I look around this audience here… you probably see an old man that’s probably not dressed so well, got a lot of grey hair, you can see the weather in my face, and… I don’t see that. All I see is from my eyes outwards.”

“And because I don’t spend a lot of time looking in a mirror back at myself, I see myself in this moment in time, as the same person that I was when I was 17 years old. And I think not enough of us…spend enough time actually looking out from the inside, instead of worrying about how I’m dressed, how I look, how’s my hair, am I getting old… am I this, am I that or whatever? But if you look from the inside out, all you see is what life has to offer.”

A little old man ran past, and the rest is history

Farmer told the boys how he left school at age 14. It wasn’t something he’s proud of, but he didn’t have a choice as his parents just couldn’t afford to send him. And so he became a motor mechanic, but somehow this led him to his path – because one day at work, some marathon runners ran past. One of these was a 60-something year old man, and suddenly Farmer was inspired.

“As was mentioned earlier on, I’ve done all sorts of things,” said Farmer. “I hold records for racing across the Simpson Desert in the hottest time of the year… I’m still the fastest man on earth to run across the Simpson Desert … I’ve raced up and down Sydney Centrepoint Tower…”

“Do you know why I’ve done all this stuff?… because one little old man ran past where I worked… and that action, not his words, ignited a fire within my soul… and got me to do something with my life… And somehow, someway, because I became one of the best in my field at what I did, I bubbled to the top. And that opened up doorways for me in politics and learning and other ways.”

Seizing opportunities and taking a crack at it

While Farmer got into running somewhat randomly, he became the best. As he told the boys, he was keen to use his talent for the good; to help others when possible. This was what got him into raising money through his running, and eventually into politics as well.

“I have a simple philosophy,” he said to the young men. “When opportunities come along we either take them or we live with regret. So with that in mind I thought: what have I got to lose? I’ll give it a shot. If it’s meant to be I’ll get elected and I’ll help people … and if it’s not meant to be at least I tried. And I won!… I turned what was considered a Labor seat into a Liberal seat…”

Farmer went on, “It doesn’t matter if I win or I lose… what matters is I can look at myself in the mirror and say, I did my best… it’s about standing up to the plate, saying I’m going to have a crack at this.”

“The message I’m trying to get to you… is you take on enormous tasks, you break them down in bite-size pieces and it’s amazing what you can achieve if you simply never give up on yourself. You simply put one foot in front of the other, and you push on and on until the job’s done. With that same philosophy I’ve gone about everything my whole life.”

Nothing worthwhile is easy

“I have this saying,” said Farmer. “Nothing worthwhile in this life is ever easy. And it is so true… You know the most worthwhile thing on this planet, is for a woman to be able to bring a child into this world. For a woman to bear a child, to carry a child, for nine months; to share the same body with another human being. And then to go through the pain and the difficulties and the agony to be able to help that child to breathe for the first time. And yet we see our mothers and women so often backing up to do this a second time, a third time or what have you. And they forget about the pain of the moment and they realise the success of the moment, and that is, bringing the greatest gift to this world and that is the gift of life. I mention that because often you have to go through pain, you have to go through difficulty to achieve anything worthwhile.”

“If you want to do something – if you want to do literally anything with all your heart, you can and you will find a way. If you don’t truly want to do it, you’ll simply find an excuse. My message, my purpose of being here tonight, is to say to you – figure out what it is that you truly want with all your heart, and remember, no excuses.”