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Ellis, Fay

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There are not many neurologists who can claim achievements in the fields of neurology and sports, but Sir Roger Bannister, MD, is one who can. For that – and his career-long commitment to the study of patients with neurological disease and the physiology of the autonomic nervous system – he was honored this month with the first AAN Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented in a special ceremony at the AAN Annual Meeting in Miami Beach.

Dr. Bannister became famous first for an historical athletic feat. On May 6, 1954, the 25-year-old broke the world record for running the mile in just under four minutes. Within one month, another Australian runner John Landy had beaten Dr. Bannister's record. But in a subsequent race against Mr. Landy billed as “The Mile of the Century,” Dr. Bannister came in first edging his competitor by a millisecond.

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In 1954, “Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year,” comparing his four-minute mile breakthrough with the scaling of Everest as the most significant athletic feat of the 20th century. His autobiography – First Four Minutes–which has since been reprinted as Four Minute Mile–was published in 1955.

Dr. Bannister prepared for his historical run while enrolled as a full-time medical student at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, England. His busy medical studies allowed him to train for only 45 minutes a day.

After graduating from medical school, he combined a career in research with a clinical practice in neurology. Today, Sir Roger Bannister is Director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London and a trustee-delegate of St. Mary's Hospital Medical School.

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Since 1990, he has been Chairman of the Editorial Board of the journal Clinical Autonomic Research and is the editor of Autonomic Failure, a textbook on clinical disorders of the autonomic nervous system. He has been a leader in unraveling clinical syndromes involving the autonomic system. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of his legendary race in Oxford, England – and he has maintained his involvement and interest in athletics. He was Chairman of the Sports Council of Great Britain from 1971 to 1974, and President of the International Council for Sport and Physical Recreation from 1976 to 1983. He has advocated against the use of drugs in sports and developed one of the first tests for anabolic steroids.

Dr. Bannister will be honored at the AAN Annual Meeting for his lifetime work in neurology, but he will always be remembered for his athleticism. On breaking the four-minute mile, Dr. Bannister wrote in his autobiography: “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”

© 2005 American Academy of Neurology