Forgotten great lives, number 367
Laurence Inman continues his quest for a healthy body and, it seems, has found the one he would have liked: Percy Cerutty’s
Percy Wells Cerutty was born in Melbourne in 1895. At the age of six he suffered a bout of double pneumonia, which left him with a damaged left lung. He couldn’t walk for more than fifty yards without pain. But instead of giving in, he began to experiment with less painful patterns of movement.
He sense that animals moved more naturally and efficiently than humans, so he studied horses, gazelles, antelopes and even apes in his search for effortless movement.
In 1938, aged 43, he had a catastrophic nervous breakdown. In his state of immobilised depression he began a long process of self-examination. He walked huge distances, read philosophy, poetry and psychology.
Then he started running. He had no faith in doctors and took charge of his own health, seeing that ‘alternative’ medicine and a natural diet held the key to the balance of life. During the late forties he was Victoria State Marathon Champion and held Australian records for 30, 50 and 60 miles.
In 1946 Percy left his job as a technician and bought some land by the sea at Portsea, Victoria. He built himself a shack among the dunes and called it the International Athletic Centre. He declared that he would train great runners, and he did.
Herb Elliott, John Landy and Betty Cuthbert, all Olympic medallists, followed his regime of natural, uncooked food, sprinting through the dunes and what he called ‘Stotan’ philosophy, a mixture of Stoicism and Spartanism.
He ran on sand or grass, always barefoot, wearing only a pair of white shorts. Right up to his death in 1975 he had the body of a man at least fifty years younger.