Friday, 5 February 2016

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Mile 2: Iffley Road, Oxford.

It was in 2013 that I started to raise awareness about Muscular Dystrophy; I wanted to ‘Move a Mile for Muscles’ and all I could think of was the most famous mile in history.

On the 6th of May, 1954 Sir Roger Bannister ran a sub four minute mile at the Iffley Road track in Oxford and I’ve always wanted to get onto that hallowed ground. I never got round to it, it’s something that I’ve always put off “We’ll go there another day, we’re too busy”. So in 2013 I did carry out my mile but in the luxury of a venue nearer to home and more convenient to myself.

Things have changed and an opportunity has presented itself to me and there is no way that I will be turning it down, I will be getting onto one of the most famous tracks in the world. 

I have become so intrigued and interested with sports people that are mostly alone in their event and how they overcome everything that comes with that. Some might say that Roger Bannister was not alone and he was helped by pace makers, similar to that of a boxer with his team in the corner of the ring. The pace makers of the mile were Chris Chataway (co-founder of the Guinness book of records) and Chris Brasher (sports journalist and co-founder of the London Marathon), these three men were a band of brothers and had a lot to prove as Bannisters training techniques were considered controversial and most certainly unorthodox for a runner.

The event nearly never happened at all, there was a very strong wind on the day and Bannister decided he would rather save himself for another day but at 18:00 the wind dropped enough to get the race underway. The gun fired and they were off! The stadium announcer on that day was Norris McWhirter (Guinness book of records presenter) and the BBC commentary came from Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic 100 metre champion).

Each time the men crossed the line the time was announced and could be heard by the men. The first lap was 58 seconds, on time. On the second lap they heard 1.58, again, good and on time. After the third lap the men heard the announcement of 3 minutes, 1 second and this wasn’t good enough. Bannister kicked and crossed the line at the point of exhaustion.

Chris Brasher setting the pace for Sir Roger Bannister

The final announcement was made… “As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes...” The complete time was not heard because of the erupting crowd but Bannister had done it!

Away from the track Sir Roger Bannister spent most of his life as a Neurologist in Oxford, which struck a chord with me. It was a neurologist in Oxford that gave me the diagnosis of my condition and the coincidences don’t stop there. It is no secret that I have great difficulty in walking and that I’m grateful for this diagnosis and not anything else. Also, the love and appreciation I have for my family, I write about them in nearly every blog and how I wish to be the best role model I can be.  Imagine my surprise then when I heard a recent interview with Sir Roger…

“I’m having troubles with walking, so I do have difficulties. Ironically it’s a neurological disorder of Parkinson’s. I’m being well looked after and I don’t intend to let it interfere with my other activities. Life has its physical challenges, I’ve not been free of other illnesses but I take every day as it comes and the pleasure I receive, much of it is seeing what my grandchildren are achieving. I once said, as someone was commiserating with me about having this illness I said just consider the alternatives, which is the way I look at it.

There is a gentle irony about it but I’ve seen and looked after patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I’m not surprised that I’ve acquired an illness; it’s in the nature of things. I think it’s important to be a good father and grandfather and of course what we pass on, we pass the gifts of the children and grandchildren whom we have raised. The most important part of my life has been my family, I’m extremely grateful for my wife who has always supported me, putting that alongside my career these have gone hand in hand.

One of my pleasures in life has been walking, apart from of course, running and I founded a walking club in Oxford and we had our 100th walk a little while ago but of course now the walks were always followed by lunch so now I’m a very happy member of the lunching group that hears about the walk and therefore vicariously enjoys the walk”
So it is with humour and a tongue firmly in my cheek that I say there is little difference between myself and Sir Roger Bannister except about 44 years and the fact my mile will take about 44 minutes.

I have been invited to the historic race track at Iffley Road, Oxford to stand on the shoulders of giants and walk one mile in my very own shoes. Three minutes and 59.4 seconds was the world record time and I actually feel lucky that my time will be a lot longer. This will give me the opportunity to appreciate not only where I’ll be, but also the family and friends that will enjoy this experience with me.

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