By Helen Owton
At the age of 88 years old, “Sir Roger Bannister, died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March 2018” his family said he was “surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them”. He was best known in sport for breaking the four minute mile barrier (3mins, 59.4s) on 6 May 1954, nearly 60 years ago.
Something that he worked relentlessly to achieve remembering that, “I felt suddenly and gloriously free of the burden of athletic ambition that I had been carrying for years” (The First Four Minutes). He held the record for 46 days when John Landy, Bannister’s rival, ran a mile in 3mins, 57.9s in Finland on 21 June 1954. Indeed, breaking the four minute mile barrier was a giant sporting achievement particularly in light of the lack of training techniques, research and technology that currently exists today.
Life After Sport
For many, however, “Life after sport can be a challenging time, but it needn’t be. It’s a wonderful opportunity for reinvention.” (Richard Branson). Ending a career in sport can be a particularly challenging transition which can have cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects on individuals (Taylor and Ogilvie, 1994). Many athletes struggle with life after sport particularly those who are ‘performance’ focused with a strong athletic identity whereas athletes more focused on ‘discovery’ tend to discuss life after sport more positively (Douglas and Carless, 2015). The transition from sport to life after sport can be even more disruptive if it was not planned (e.g. a career ending injury) (Allen-Collinson and Hockey, 2007). Regardless, if not supported, the dramatic transition can elicit stressful reactions and difficulty adjusting emotionally (Lavallee, Gordon & Grove, 1997).
Athletic careers have a short shelf life with athletes ordinarily retiring before their mid-late thirties, but Sir Roger was able to put his great sporting achievements in perspective and set his sights on other meaningful purposes enabling him to live a full life enriched by family and medical breakthroughs.
End of life
The irony of Sir Roger Bannister being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a medical field he had worked a lifetime in, is not lost on me. My Grandfather was diagnosed with bowel cancer after his wife, Joan Bebbington, had dedicated so much of her life working for Mr Douglas Macmillan (now known as Macmillan cancer). Similarly, another sporting legend, Muhammad Ali, also developed the degenerative brain disease Parkinson’s and died in 2016 at the age of 74 years.
Sir Roger may have argued, as a neuroscientist, that the brain is the most critical organ but the loss of a loved one will be felt most critically in all our hearts.