Who: Ernest Clifford Warwick was in his sixties when he began working at Aston University’s Sports Centre as a steward. This would seem unremarkable, except that during his time at Aston, Ernest - known affectionately as “Ernie” or “the Flying Ferret” - undertook many extraordinary feats of physical endurance as a long-distance runner. He completed more than 100 marathons and ran all over the world, breaking records and raising substantial sums of money for charity. Aston University awarded him an Honorary Degree in 1999 for his services to the University, to amateur athletics and to humanity.
Early Life: Ernie was born in Duke Street, close to the precinct of the present Aston University. He later lived in Gem Street, which eventually became the site of the University sports centre, where Ernie would later work.
His connection with Aston sport was entirely appropriate because from a young age he displayed a talent for distance running and walking. Aged 18 he won the Midlands junior walking race before becoming senior champion of the Midlands Amateur Athletics Association in 1938.
During World War II, Ernie served in the RAF, during which time he survived four hours in freezing Atlantic waters following the sinking of his troop ship. After the war, Ernie and his wife Margaret brought up daughter Kim, and Ernie worked in printing. At the age of 62 Ernie rekindled his love of athletics and joined the staff of the University sports centre.
Athletic achievements: Encouraged by colleagues and friends, Ernie trained for a marathon. This would be the first of more than 100 marathons which he undertook from the age of 62 onwards; he went on to hold the title of London Marathon champion for the over 70s on several occasions. In 1982 he came third in the World Veterans’ Marathon, and the very next day he defied the laws of exhaustion and came fourth in the World Veterans’ 10K. Following that, he completed the John o’Groats to Land’s End running relay three times, not to mention the 3,000-mile trans-America Washington DC to San Francisco running relay (he was over 75 when he completed the latter).
In 1986, at the comparatively young age of 70, Ernie smashed eight world records on the way to running a record 106 miles non-stop in 24 hours. During another epic performance in Birmingham, he became the only person over the age of 75 ever to run over 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Even at the age of 89, Ernie could be found participating in the Sutton Fun Run, raising money for Acorn’s Childrens’ Hospice.
As well as being popular amongst his colleagues and fellow athletes, Ernie proved what it was possible to accomplish in later life and his example has been an inspiration to countless generations of Aston students.
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