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Hero’s return

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1080 (Published 07 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1080
  1. Alison Shepherd
  1. The BMJ

Roger Bannister is cheered by fellow trainees at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, on 7 May 1954—the day after becoming the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.

It’s an image that combines both lives of the world beating athlete who later became a renowned neurologist and who died last week, aged 88.

As a medical student at Oxford University, Bannister used his medical knowledge to devise his own training regime and investigate the mechanical aspects of running. His dedication bore fruit when on an Oxford sports field he ran a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, beating rivals from Australia and the US to the long coveted achievement.

However, in many interviews since that auspicious day, he said his athletic track record paled into insignificance for him when he finally fulfilled his ambition to qualify as a doctor.

Over the years, he discovered his particular research interest and expertise in the autonomic nervous system, founding the Autonomic Research Society, and becoming editor of Autonomic Failure: A Textbook of Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System.

Nearly 10 years after his retirement in 1993, Sir Roger, as he had become, was given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He told BBC Radio Oxford: “I have seen, and looked after, patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I am not surprised I have acquired an illness. It’s in the nature of things; there’s a gentle irony to it.

“Just consider the alternatives—that is the way I look at it. One of my pleasures in life, apart from running, has been walking. Intellectually I am not [degenerating], and what is walking anyway?”

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