SPORTING icon Sir Roger Bannister has revealed he has Parkinson’s Disease, just days before the 60th anniversary of his breaking of the four-minute mile barrier.
The 85-year-old was yesterday reluctant to dwell on the subject, preferring to concentrate on the events planned for Tuesday’s commemoration.
But he told the Oxford Mail that he “does have this disability, particularly with walking, from Parkinson’s but I make as light of it as I can”.
Sir Roger achieved sporting immortality when he ran a mile on the Iffley Road track in three minutes 59.4 seconds on May 6, 1954.
Exeter College, where he studied medicine in 1946, will host a lunch in his honour on Tuesday, the anniversary, and he will also attend the opening of the refurbished Vincent’s Club on the same day.
Exeter College’s rector, Frances Caincross, said: “We at Exeter College are amazingly proud of him, it’s such a great achievement.”
University spokesman Matt Pickles added: “The vice chancellor and other guests that Sir Roger wants to see will join him and his family for the lunch, where we will show footage of his famous race.
“We are looking forward to celebrating the 60th anniversary of Sir Roger’s legendary athletic achievement with him.”
Vincent’s Club’s bursar Stephen Eeley said: “We know that Sir Roger has trouble walking, and as part of the refurbishment we have installed a lift.
“This means that our many, many members who are of Sir Roger’s generation can now get to our premises on the second and third floor with no trouble.”
The news he has Parkinson’s Disease was greeted with shock from the university and Parkinson’s community, none of whom had any idea of Sir Roger’s diagnosis.
But neither the charity Parkinson’s UK nor the University of Oxford wanted to comment.
Professor Richard Wade-Martins, who leads the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, simply said: “It’s very sad.” Sir Roger, himself an acclaimed neurologist who has written about the disease, said he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease after “there was a realisation that I was having problems walking”.
“That was the nub of it.
“I am having treatment and the treatments have improved in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Sir Roger’s work as a neurologist led to a greater understanding of degenerative disease and disorders of the autonomic nervous system. Decades of neurological training, clinical work and research at the National Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital in London made him an expert on Parkinson’s many years before he was himself diagnosed.
He said: “Yes, it is an irony.
“As a neurologist, I was concerned with the diagnosis, causes and management of Parkinson’s.”
Asked about the effects, he chuckled: “I still have a walking group of 11 good friends – they go for a walk every month but these days I only go for the pub lunch afterwards.”
Sir Roger, who has written an autobiography Roger Bannister: Twin Tracks, preferred to focus on the commemoration of his feat next Tuesday: “I do not want to make a fuss (about having Parkinson’s).
“Pride (in the celebration of his record run) is not as much the word as gratitude in that I have enjoyed all my associations with Oxford.”
Jake Oldershaw, who devised and directed the play The Story of the Four Minute Mile two years ago, said: “As somebody dedicated to neurology, he’ll be fully aware of the implications of that diagnosis.
“His achievements in the sporting world are an inspiration to all generations, and I wish him and his family the very best.”
The play was performed at the Iffley Road track as the audience watched it while walking the course four times, which is the same distance that Sir Roger ran almost 60 years ago.
WHAT IS PARKINSON’s DISEASE?
PARKINSON’S disease is a degenerative neurological condition.
In Oxfordshire there are an estimated 1,300 people with Parkinson’s, according to the Oxford University Hospitals Trust.
The disease is caused by a lack of the chemical dopamine due to dead nerve cells in the patient’s brain.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s are shaking, stiffness and slowness of movement. Other symptoms can include eye and speech problems, depression and fatigue.
Drugs, therapies and surgery can control symptoms, but there is no cure.
Runner Sir John Walker, of New Zealand, was the first man to complete 100 sub-4 minute miles. He announced he had Parkinson’s in 1996.
Other celebrities with the disease include Muhammad Ali, Michael J Fox and Billy Connolly.
For more, visit parkinsons.org.uk
Additional reporting: Reg Little