On March 3d, Roger Bannister passed away. In 1954, he became the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes, a feat which was instantly recognized as one of the greatest sporting achievements of modern times. Since then, over 1000 athletes have run a sub-4, and the record stands at 3:47, but there is nothing like being the first. It’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like for Bannister – and for the other athletes at that time who were also chasing that goal – to push up against the unknown. There were doctors who insisted that the human body was not meant to push that hard, and that anyone attempting that feat would have their heart explode. Still, to borrow a modern phrase, he persisted.
These days, it’s easy to be jaded about all athletic records. Every time we hear about a new standard being set, we brace for a new round of revelations of doping. But let’s try to suspend out cynicism for a moment and imagine what it was like then to chase this magical goal, to, as Jack London wrote, “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of run.” Just for the sheer joy and challenge of it.
For many of us, Roger Bannister represented more than the attainment of a new record. He represented that striving and almost childlike disregard for caution. He ran the sub-4 because no one convinced him that he couldn’t. We could all use a little of that attitude in our lives. He will be missed.