Roger Bannister: A Knight of Inspiration

Roger Bannister passing John Landy
Roger Bannister passing John Landy just as Landy looks left to check his lead during the Miracle Mile race in Empire Stadium at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games

Listen closely, I’m about to tell you a very inspiring story the way I heard it.

You never know how your actions may inspire others to take on their lives, improve their health, and do things that they never imagined were possible.

It was June 2, 1953. Thick anticipation filled the air as people had lined the streets, even camped out the night before to ensure a good spot along this royal boulevard of dreams. They were lining the street with hope to get a glimpse, even if brief, of a very young soon to be Queen of England. She would come this way soon. She would pass by quickly in her elaborate ceremonial procession. Even if they only got a glimpse of her, like their favorite runner running by in a race, that would be enough.

A young man named Roger was waiting in that same crowd to see her too. Of course, she probably wouldn’t notice him but that probably wasn’t even on Rogers mind. He’d just made an attempt to win gold in the Olympics in Helsinki. Feeling like a relative failure for placing 4th he’d spent a few months considering not even running again when he decided to completely change his goal from gold to something bigger. Here he’d just be another face in the crowd of thousands of admirers. Little did Roger know that 22 years in the future this soon to be Queen would have Roger kneel before her as she would knight him for his contribution to their country, but of course how could he know this now? Just an average young man, growing up in the pain of war-torn Europe when so many were waiting in bread lines and digging out of the rubble, trying to rebuild and grieve their losses. Roger had no idea what his future contribution to a world’s inspiration would be.

Two other young men, who knows where they were or what they were doing on this same morning, but they would accompany Roger on a quest to be the fastest man on the planet. His new goal would get Roger noticed by the entire world not just this Queen. These two young men, both named Chris would help make Roger realize his potential and later carry a torch in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. At this point in our story, nobody except for the Queen felt important. Grip tight on this thought for a moment as you read on.

Someone besides the Queen was about to be noticed this same morning and the entire world would know about it within hours. The crowd was full of energy in anticipation of royalty. Elizabeth was symbolic of their hopes for the rebirth of their country and their country’s pride. All of Europe was desperately working to dig itself out of the rubble and destruction of WWII and replace their sense of loss and destruction with a new sense of belonging and accomplishment in the world. The incalculable cost of war had left deep emotional and physical scars.

So… just for a minute imagine how important this day must have been. Put yourself there with me as we stand with them on this street for a second. Because sometimes seconds matter. Hear the hum of the crowd as they chatter about the night before and how excited they are to see the young Queen. Feel the cool morning air. Imagine looking down the boulevard hoping to see a glimpse of the procession soon. Then imagine hearing the hum of the crowd abruptly interrupted by the crack of loudspeakers that had been placed along the streets the day before, as everyone goes silent. The speakers had been set up to announce the queen’s arrival and inform the crowd. The unknown voice on the speakers, with instant credibility, had everyone’s complete attention and announces that at 11:30 AM the day prior, the British-led expedition, counting in total 400 men, supporting mountain climbers, had just summited Mt. Everest and named a little-known man, who’s name sounded like a girl’s. All of a sudden this sent chills down Rogers’ spine. A fellow Brit from New Zeland had just been the first man to literally stand on the top of the world. It all happened so fast in Roger’s mind. The crowd erupted, the cheers were deafening, the sound of joy and pride filled the air and Roger’s heart was instantly filled with possibility, and with questions of what might be possible for him too. An entire country was inspired by an instant sense of renewed pride as this one man, Edmond Hillary, just doing what he loved, magically represented an entire country and their dreams of recognition. Roger, who was patiently waiting in the crowd was so totally inspired by the thought of this man who had stood on top of the world and made a whole country shout with pride and joy.

Eleven months later, Roger, with the help of his two companions mentioned before, Chris and Chris would go on to be the first man ever to break the elusive 4-minute mile. Now, let’s pause here for a moment. I could tell you all kinds of amazing and inspiring things about this incredible feat and the amazing little details, but that’s not what this is about. For now, just imagine back to hearing and feeling of the roar of the crowd when our Roger was waiting for the Queen. That same jubilant cheer now erupts from the crowd when the announcer announces Roger Bannister’s time and the crowd’s deafening sound drowns out the actual time coming from the speakers as the announcer after a long pause to draw the crowd closer, says “3 minutes…” Again a crowd feeling pride in their countryman and this incredibly inspiring feat shout from the top of their lungs with tears streaming down their cheeks and the whole world is lit up with new possibility as the word spreads. Imagine how Chris and Chris must have felt too. Roger couldn’t have done it without them, so who’s on your team?

Four months later a father from Oregon and his high school age son Phil sat in the bleachers at a very important event that more than 10 million people would hear announced on the radio around the world. Phil’s father had felt it would be a special birthday present for his son to see the mile event that everyone was talking about. It was the 1954 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Brittish Columbia Canada and they were referring to this event as The Miracle Mile. As Phil and his father sat in the bleachers with anticipation, looking over the track, Phil’s father had no idea how impactful this would be as they watched Roger Bannister take the gold medal as he passed John Landy in epic fashion. John Landy, the only other man to have broken the 4-minute mile and almost taking Rogers new speed record weeks prior. In the last seconds of the miracle mile, John looked over his left shoulder to check his gap on Roger when Roger, seizing the moment, shot past John on the right where he couldn’t see him and took the gold medal that had eluded him four years before when he placed fourth. The crowd erupted and a young Phil felt a chill run up and down his spine and was at that moment completely inspired, just like Roger had been a few years before by that Hillary dude. Later, Phil Knight said that it was this event that gave him the inspiration to start Nike.

So what I’m saying, though I’ve never heard anyone else say it this way. Millions of people all over the world are wearing shoes with a swish because Phil Knight was inspired by a mountain climber, who was knighted by the Queen of England. Sir Edmond Hillary by the way, was also the first man to stand on the north pole and the south pole and to Summit Mt Everest. He sure put on the miles. Sir Hillary who inspired Sir Roger Bannister, who inspired his two pacemaker friends and teammates Chris Brasher and Christopher Chataway to assist him with a renewed goal of breaking the 4-minute mile. Chris Brasher though never knighted, founded a company that later sold to Reebok. Sir Christopher Chataway, Sir because he too was knighted by the same Queen, for his contributions in Aviation. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Apparently, also influenced Sir Roger Badger to start the Guinness Book of World Records. I know I pulled that one out of nowhere too but it’s true. It may be getting a little confusing who inspires who and who’s a knight now but remember this. John Landy broke Sir Roger Bannister’s record just 46 days after his loss to Bannister, but he held it for more than 3 years. John Landy never became a Knight but he certainly helped to inspired Sir Roger Bannister to become one by providing a challenge and both of them inspired Phil Knight the founder of a little shoe company named Nike. Anyway… that’s the way I tell the story.

So… I ask you, who inspired who? Who inspires you and who do you inspire? The 1000 Mile Challenge may seem like an Everest of a challenge but who will you inspire as you do the challenge too this year. By the way, we really don’t care what kind of shoes you wear. Just Do It!

AND just in case you are not aware, you are an inspiration to someone somewhere. Even though you or I might not be knighted we can all shine brightly.

We at the 1000 Mile Challenge want to thank you for all of your light as you take on your dreams and goals. You certainly have the ability to make any night bright.

Run Strong and Run Happy!

Cheers,
Sean

P.S. Enjoy this Youtube video on Roger Bannister

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