I’m a runner and I’ve loved hearing the story of this man. I loved knowing that no one thought it could be done; to run faster than a four-minute mile seemed impossible in 1954. In fact, to many of us runners, it is so far out of reach as to still seem impossible. What I also love about the story of Roger Bannister is that by all accounts, he was an ordinary person. He was ordinary in the fact that he was not a professional athlete, nor was he pursuing fame. The legend goes that on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister, a medical student, completed his regular shift at St. Mary’s hospital in London, then took the train to Oxford, where he planned to compete against runners from the Oxford track team. Even the day itself was reported to be unimpressive for running. It was blustery, never conditions a runner hopes to run in when trying to perform at their best.
Despite it all, despite the very ordinariness of it, that day in May of 1954 was exactly the day the ‘impossible’ became possible. And yet that still isn’t what I love best about this story. What I love best is that Roger Bannister, although I’m sure delighted with his result, kept his accomplishment in perspective. In the later years of his life he revealed, during an interview, that this was not the greatest accomplishment of his life. He was even more proud of his career in medicine and of his family.
No matter how he chose to view his running career, his running of the mile in 3min, 59 seconds and change, did something much greater than creating a statistic in a running journal. It allowed people to see that something they had believed impossible was indeed, very, very possible. Not many days after this famed race, the four-minute mile was broken again and over the years it has been broken again and again.
In the years since 1954, Roger Bannister has allowed millions of people to believe in dreams, even when, by all accounts, they seem out of reach.
Flash forward 63 years to the late Fall of 2017. With the sidewalks and pathways too slippery to go for a run outside, I found myself looking for something to watch on television while working out, and I came across a brand-new show, ‘The Great Canadian Baking Challenge’. I was delighted to discover that one of the ‘home bakers’ who had been chosen to be a contestant on the show was Linda Longson, from High River, Alberta. I recognized this name and then her beautiful face! Linda works in High River for the same school board I was employed with for my entire teaching career. Although she worked in Central Office and I in a classroom, over the years our names and faces became familiar to each other.
Week after week as the season progressed I engaged my whole family as we cheered Linda on from our living rooms. What I loved about this were several different things. Of course, I loved that I ‘knew’ Linda. I loved that the love she had for her family showed up in every baking creation she presented. I loved that she had been baking all her life for her family and friends and that she had taken the risk to try out for this show. I especially loved that Linda was the oldest competitor on the show and that she had not let her age define her. She instead let her generous spirit, her experience, her desire to learn and to help others learn, her love of her family, her desire to do her very best, and her love of baking define her. It became very apparent that Linda was a top competitor and as the weeks went on, it was obvious to us that she would make it to the finale.
We could hardly bear watching the final episode and I’m afraid we were not very Canadian-like when Linda’s name was not announced as the Top Baker. We may have shouted out, ‘No. Linda was robbed!!!’.
Nonetheless, once I had recovered from my heartbreak at the judges making the wrong decision, (truthfully the winner, Sabrina Degni, from Montreal, was simply amazing too) I realized that had Linda won, she could not have supplied me with any more inspiration than she already had. So often as we approach the later years in our career, we notice jobs being given to younger versions of ourselves, we notice that we might be considered to be the face of ‘yesterday’ rather than ‘tomorrow’. And the sad thing about this is that we quit taking risks, because we believe that we may have missed our opportunity.
Being the oldest competitor, Linda may have had these same doubts herself. However, she put those aside as she brought the best thing she possibly could have to her audition: herself. It was more than enough. Young, middle aged and old alike would quickly become inspired by this incredible woman who dared to put herself on the stage of life.
I write about Roger Bannister and Linda Longson together, not because their passions lay in the same arena, but because they share two qualities I admire greatly. First, they each harboured the seed of a dream inside themselves and they had the courage to take the steps to walk (or run) toward it. Second, while each of them achieved something great, and had every reason to be proud of themselves, neither of them believed that this accomplishment was the defining moment of their life. Both of them knew that they are bigger than any one of their victories.
Each of us has a dream inside ourselves. For many of us the dream is faint, even hard to see because we have long since decided it was out of reach, or too big, or silly, or unimportant. Most of us will die with that dream still inside ourselves because we are too busy telling ourselves why we can’t possibly pursue it.
Thanks Linda and Roger for not letting yourselves be led by fear and for inspiring me to go looking for my dreams again.
Keeping in mind Arthur Ashe’s quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”, my inquiry for you this week is, ‘What one step can I take to bring my dream to life?’
Elizabeth is a Life and Leadership coach, working with motivated clients wishing to live their dreams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups and provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to begin to take bold steps toward your dreams.