Running with Roger Bannister put 88-year-old Cecil Walkley on track for a long and athletic life
Sporting greats, African dictators and John Wayne — Cecil Walkley has packed plenty in to his 88 years. And running — lots of running.
These days, the dedicated middle-distance runner still pounds the track in suburban Perth every Thursday night, at the Ern Clark Athletics Centre in Cannington.
“It’s exhilarating. I think that’s the right word to use,” he says.
But years ago, at the peak of his career, the former doctor ran against one of the greats — one-mile record-breaker Sir Roger Bannister, who died two weeks ago.
“I started curiously enough when I was in Egypt at the age of 10,” Dr Walkley says.
“I found I could run fairly well.”
Dr Walkley started running aged 10 and is still clearing hurdles on the athletics track. (Supplied: Graeme Dahl)
A life forged in war
Born at a Hill Station in Murree, Pakistan to British parents, Dr Walkley’s childhood was shaped by war.
His father, a quartermaster in the Royal Army Medical Corps, was posted to Egypt in 1938, taking his young family with him.
They were evacuated with other families to South Africa a few years later, before returning to England on a troop carrier.
“We got bombed several times in the Mediterranean,” Dr Walkley recalls.
“Then when I got back to Britain, I was sent off to boarding school.”
Competing against the stars
Afterwards, Dr Walkley studied medicine at Cambridge University, where he ran against the marquee names of his generation.
“There was four of us. There was [Chris] Chataway … there was [Chris] Brasher, who later on won the Olympic steeplechase, and Bannister.”
Cecil Walkley (right) and Chris Brasher running the three-mile event at London’s White City Stadium in 1950. (Supplied)
“I just wasn’t as good as them. Not much far behind, but I was.”
Dr Walkley’s home town was Oxford, where Bannister attended university, and the pair trained together during vacations.
“I broke the London University three-mile record, in those days, on the same day Bannister broke the mile university record.”
“[I] couldn’t catch him. Not nearly.”
Running for Kenya, Idi Amin and John Wayne
As a recipient of a Kitchener scholarship, Dr Walkley was required to serve time in the military and he spent six years in the British Army.
Dr Walkley is training for the Australian Masters Athletics Championships in April. (ABC News: Sarah Collard)
“I was with the parachute field ambulance for nine months and then I was fortunate enough to get a secondment to the King’s African Rifles,” Dr Walkley said.
“I had a lovely time in East Africa … I was there for the independence of Kenya.”
“I looked after [Ugandan dictator] Idi Amin every time he came through [in training].
“I was seconded to Paramount filming corporation and looked after the personnel on [the film] Hatari! with John Wayne.”
During his time in Kenya, Dr Walkley organised the Army’s local athletics competition.
“[Before one race] at the last moment, one of the Kenyan three-milers fell sick so I ran for Kenya. I didn’t win, but I completed.”
From Kenya to Narembeen
In 1962, Dr Walkley moved to the tiny Wheatbelt town of Narembeen to be a general practitioner, where he delivered “50 to 60 babies” every year.
Dr Walkley retired from his job as a rehabilitation physician just five months ago. (ABC News: Emily Piesse)
“I met somebody, a British doctor who said ‘go to Western Australia, it’s a very exciting place to go to, particularly if you go to the country’,” he said.
“[They told me] ‘you’ll do some veterinary work and you’ll see lots of animals’ … which I did in my four years there.”
The married father-of-three later become a rehabilitation physician in Perth, retiring just five months ago.
In April, on his 89th birthday, he will compete at the Australian Masters Athletics Championships in Perth as a member of his WA club.
A stroke last year and a heart failure in 2012 threatened to end his running career, but Dr Walkley said he had excellent rehabilitation — and the motivation to get through it.
“A certain amount is genetic. But the great thing, and I don’t care what age you are, is keep moving,” he says.
“I’ve had a wonderful life. Not complaining. And I hope it hasn’t ended yet.”
Despite suffering a stroke and heart failure, Dr Walkley says he has plenty left in front of him. (ABC News: Sarah Collard)