Sir Roger Bannister has revealed that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The athletics record-breaker was diagnosed with the neurological disorder three years ago, he said, and he now has trouble walking.
He added that, as a former neurologist, he considered the fact that he had contracted the disease “a gentle irony”. The news comes just days before the 60th anniversary of his historic sub-four-minute-mile run.
Sir Roger, 85, told BBC Radio Oxford that while the condition caused him “difficulties”, he had tried not to allow it to interfere with his activities.
“Life has its physical challenges,” he said. “I’ve not been free of other illness. I take every day as it comes and the pleasure that I see is much of it directed towards what my grandchildren are achieving. [But] intellectually I think and believe and hope that I am not [degenerating].”
Sir Roger astonished the world and made sporting history when he became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes at Oxford’s Iffley Road track on 6 May 1954.
He achieved success as an athlete while still a student at medical school in Oxford, and went on to become a leading neurologist, as well as writing academic papers on the physiology of exercise.
Parkinson’s affects around one in 500 people and there are estimated to be nearly 130,000 in the UK with the condition, including comedian Billy Connelly. Former boxing champion Muhammad Ali is a sufferer, as is Grammy award winner Linda Ronstadt.
The disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in one part of the brain and results in a loss of control over muscle movement. People living with Parkinson’s experience involuntary shaking and stiffness that makes day-to-day activities difficult. It can be treated with drugs but there is no known cure, and it is progressive.
“I have seen, and looked after, patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I am not surprised I have acquired an illness,” Sir Roger said. “It’s in the nature of things, there’s a gentle irony to it. I don’t intend to let it interfere – as much as I can.
“I am aware of all the research that’s been done,” he added. “I think it will take some time before there is a breakthrough, but the management and drug treatments are improving all the time.