Diagnosed with a heart condition at age 11 to winning world championships; Roger Black MBE is relentless.
Heart disease can strike anyone—even elite sportsmen are not immune. This has been amplified over the last couple of years with sportsmen at the highest level tragically being affected whilst competing.
Hampshire’s Roger Black has competed at the pinnacle of athletics. He most famously won medals in the 400-metre relay and 400-metre sprint, winning three Olympic medals, two World Championship Gold medals, and five European Championship Gold medals. What makes it even more impressive is doing all of this with chronic heart disease. Although Black doesn’t seem to think so.
Few people know he has chronic heart disease. One reason why Black makes light of his affliction.
“When you want to be the best in the world, you can’t have any excuse to not push yourself to be the best. Competing with a heart problem is not something that I take any credit for, however, if you were to speak to my cardiologists, they would say: ‘It’s his greatest achievement; he just doesn’t realise it’”, he said.
After joining a new school and having his school medical, Black was first diagnosed with a leaking heart valve due to an incompetent aortic valve, at 11 years old.
From a young age, Black played a range of sports, until he was told he must stop for the sake of his health. The severity of his heart problem was too big of a risk. Although Black said, with a smile, this meant that he was excused from the dreaded, muddy, and exhausting cross country, which was a positive.
Initially, the soon-to-be athlete was ruled out of competing in any sport, however, six months after his diagnosis, the rules were relaxed; Black was able to start doing what he loved again.
Despite allowing him to compete in sport, he’s had yearly check-ups with his cardiologist at Southampton General Hospital for the past 47 years.
“I’ve been monitored all my life; when I was younger it was really daunting because they put suckers all over your body.
“That was my label, but it didn’t stop me, I didn’t feel symptoms, I never felt any more out of breath than the next person”.
Black has emphasised just how big of a problem heart disease is in society.
“I was monitored every year, I’m the lucky one. I have been looked at every single year since I was 11; The scary thing is the people who think they’re fine and don’t know there is anything wrong with them.
“I knew there was something wrong with me and I would always walk into that (hospital) room knowing that I could be told that I could never run again”, he admitted.
But instead of letting chronic heart disease hinder him, Black emphasises that to compete at the highest level, he needed to remove the thought of having this health issue from his mind.
“If I had any doubt about being able to compete with a leaking heart valve, I would have never stood on the podium.
“I erased the thought of having a heart problem from my mind until I had to go and see the specialist once a year.”, he said.
With heart problems becoming a serious talking point in sports, Black suggests that people consistently having their heart monitored is integral, not just in sports, but in society in general.
“People getting their heart checked is not normalised enough. I would encourage as many people as possible to get checked, especially people who play sport, because once you know you have the problem, you can do something about it.”
So, what next for Roger Black?
Well, Roger has been the face of his very own fitness equipment supplier and has been providing equipment for over 20 years. He is dedicated to inspiring people to stay fit and healthy, no matter who they are or what health issues they might have.
It’s ironic that a man once told to stop sport, because of his health, would go on to create so many heart stopping moments as an Olympian and world class runner.