If you don’t know who Roger Bannister was, don’t worry. Not many contemporary Americans do. However, there are certain circles and communities where the name Roger Bannister equates to that of Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, or Joe Montana. Essentially, Roger Bannister was the Babe Ruth of Track & Field. On May 6, 1954 in Oxford England, Bannister became the first human being in history to run the mile in under four minutes.
“It can’t be done,” people said to him. “Impossible,” they said. The thought of a man running the mile in less than four minutes didn’t seam feasible. But he did it. And then, 20 years later, a skinny high schooler from my home state of Kansas, from my hometown of Wichita, from my alumni high school – Jim Ryun – became the first high school runner to accomplish the same feat. Now, as of today, the current world record in the mile is 3:43.13 by Hicham El Guerrouj.
That’s really fast.
Roger Bannister didn’t wake up one morning and race a sub-four mile. He woke up one morning, and he ran. And then, he woke up the next morning, and he ran again. Because it was what he loved. Running was in his blood. It was in his bones. It was in his heart. So running became his life. Roger Bannister had a dream, but instead of merely relishing in that dream and eventually waking from it, Roger worked. Roger made it his life’s ambition that his dream and his reality would collide in a massive and spectacular explosion of success and accomplishment and victory. And it happened. So now, Roger Bannister isn’t an unremarkable skinny British kid. Roger Bannister is a pioneer, a trail-blazer, a revolutionary, a founding father of his sport. Roger Bannister is a legend.
Roger Bannister did not simply make a contribution to his dream, he made a full commitment. And that made all the difference.
There’s an old story about the difference between contribution and commitment…
A father and son were sitting at breakfast one morning. The father, making small-talk with his son, asked him, “So, what are you studying in school?”
“Well,” the son replied, “yesterday we were studying a book, and the teacher asked us to describe the difference between contribution and commitment. But I wasn’t quite understanding the difference.”
The father thought for a second, then said, “Well, let me give you an example.”
“Okay,” the son replied.
“Look down at your plate,” the father said. “What do you see?”
“Ham and eggs,” the son said.
“Exactly,” the father said. “That chicken made a contribution. That pig made a commitment.”
I told this story to my wife yesterday while we were out running together. Then I said to her, “I’m tired of being the chicken.”
Roger Bannister wasn’t afraid to be the pig. He committed his entire life to his goal, his ambition, and his dream. And as a result, he succeeded. Nothing about Bannister was half-effort. He didn’t make mere contributions to his dream – not just whenever he had time, whenever he had energy, or whenever he felt like it – Roger Bannister put it all on the line to make it happen. He knew he was good enough, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen on its own; he had to make it happen.
* * *
For every 10,000 people who have heard the name Jim Ryun, maybe one of those people has also heard the name Mike Peterson.
Running track at my high school was like being part of a massive legacy. And as I wrote in “I Run,” my high school track coach embedded that sense of legacy and tradition into all of his runners. So one day, as we were stretching in the gym before practice, I looked up and saw something on the school’s Track & Field Record Board that I’d never particularly noticed before. Under Jim Ryun’s school record placard for the One Mile, there was an asterisk, followed by the text, “Thanks Mike Peterson.” Somehow, of all the times I’d looked up at that board, I’d never seen that. But that day, I saw it and it puzzled me.
“Coach Sell,” I asked, “who is Mike Peterson?” I pointed at the record board.
“Well,” Coach Sell said with a smile, “Mike Peterson was Jim Ryun’s teammate in 1964 when he set the high school record for the mile. Jim has always said that if Mike Peterson hadn’t been on the team to support him and push him and keep him going, he never would have broken that record. So when he did, he insisted that his record also have Mike Peterson’s name on it. Because Ryun thought that the record was just as much Mike’s as it was his.”
Coach Sell would know. In 1964, he was a Wichita East High School Track & Field teammate of both Jim Ryun and Mike Peterson. Literally, he was there.
My wife is the Mike Peterson of my life. She is my support and my driving force. And soon, I will hopefully embark on a new and frightening endeavor, putting all of my cards on the table, making a full commitment to accomplish my dream.
Right now, I am staring into the deep dark chasm of uncertainty, and I’m steadily running out of time. However – like the at end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Harrison Ford makes his leap of faith from the Lion’s Head – I must extend my foot and take that great step into the unknown. I must be driven by difficulties, not discouraged. I must be motivated by failures, not defeated. It will be the most difficult thing I have ever attempted to accomplish in my life. And there is only one thing I know for certain:
When Roger Bannister was on his last lap, 300 meters away from the finish in that first sub-four minute mile, he knew that it would be close. So he put on a finishing kick that drove him down the back-stretch, around the last curve, and down the final straightaway to the finish:
He knew that if he didn’t make his move, it would be too late. My own experience as a high school and college track & field athlete taught that starting a finishing sprint with 300 meters to go was risky, but effective. One of two things would happen: Either I would sprint for 200 meters and struggle for the final 100 meters to the finish, fighting off the runners who chased me; or I would drive all the way through those 300 meters, leaving my competitors safely behind. But either way, it was a risk, and it was a risk worth taking.
I feel that I have reached that point in my life. I am quickly approaching the 300-meters-remaining point in my own race. Granted, I’m not going to go out and try to be an Olympic runner or anything like that; but there is one thing in this world at which I feel I am truly great. And I believe the time has come to pursue that greatness and bring my dream to fruition. So in the race that is my life, with 300 meters left now, I can either sprint and try to win, or just keep my current pace and be content with whatever place I happen to finish.
I choose to sprint.
I will stare into the faces of skeptics and naysayers and tell them, “I will succeed.”
I will stand up from every crushing blow that knocks me down and say, “I will succeed.”
I will push forward into the headwinds that slow me down, and shout to the heavens, “I will succeed!”
Some will question whether I’m being practical or realistic.
Some will even tell me flat-out, “You can’t do this.”
My response to that: “Challenge accepted.”
I choose to sprint.