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Sir Roger Bannister: Strength of Will

Sir Roger Bannister: Strength of Will

The life of Sir Roger Bannister serves as a testament to the limitlessness of human potential and all those fortunate enough to know of his achievements, need only remember them in their time of self-doubt.

Roger Bannister, born in Harrow, England was a middle distance athlete, a doctor and an academic, whose life shows just what humans can achieve through determination and strength of will. He was inspired by the miler (mile runner) Sydney Wooderson. Wooderson set the mile record but saw it surpassed. Eight years after the fact, Wooderson regains his old form and challenges the new record holder. In 1945, while Wooderson fails to defeat the current record holder, he sets a personal best for himself and for Britain. This story of reclaiming former glory is what sparked a fire in young Roger, leading him down the path of becoming a professional runner.

Roger Bannister began his athletic career at the age of 17 with a light training regimen but nonetheless showed promise in running a mile. He was eyed as an Olympic possible in 1948 but declined as he felt he was not ready yet. Roger set his eyes on the 1952 Olympics and saw great improvements to his time which earned him a number of local rewards. The most noteworthy include the AAA championship at White City where he came third in 1949, at the Penn Relays he finished first in 1951 and later in the same year he returned to White City, defeating the defending champion and setting a meet record in the process.

Then came the promised day, the 1952 Olympics and Roger was confident in his ability to fulfill his goal but to his surprise, it was announced that the 1500m (0.932 miles) race would have a semi-final before the final. Roger had been undergoing individualistic training at the Paddington Recreation Ground in Maida Vale, where he was only able to dedicate one hour to his training as he was a full-blown medical student at St. Mary’s Hospital at the time. Roger knew that the extra race was going to favor the athletes with deeper training whereas he himself could only work on his explosiveness, not his endurance. Roger finished fifth in the semi-final, allowing him to qualify for the final where he finished fourth and even though he set a British record, he was gravely disheartened.

The loss weighed heavily on him but it only served to fuel his determination, for he set a new goal for himself; to be the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes. The feat in question was thought to be humanly impossible at the time but on 2nd of May 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford, where he ran 4:03.6, shattering Wooderson’s 1945 standard. “This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach,” said Roger. He underwent more training, which by today’s standard seems inefficient and finally made an attempt on 6th of May 1954, during a meet at the Iffley Road Track at Oxford. Roger Bannister began his day at the hospital and in the afternoon, in front of a crowd of 3000, completed the race with a time of 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds.

Later in the year Bannister retired from his athletic career and dived whole heartedly into his medical career. He made vital contributions to the field of Neurology, more specifically in autonomic failure. He ultimately published more than eighty papers, mostly concerned with the autonomic nervous system, cardiovascular physiology, and multiple system atrophy.

The achievements of Sir Roger Bannister, who refused to surrender to his failure and instead used it steadfastly to propel himself to greater heights,proved wrong all those who doubted him and his goal.


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