Charity work earns special award for jockey who triumphed over adversity

BOB Champion, the fearless jockey who conquered cancer and then won an emotional Grand National on Aldaniti, is to be honoured for his charitable endeavours that have raised in excess of £12m.

The rider, who grew up at Guisborough, North Yorkshire, is this year’s recipient of the Helen Rollason Award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity. Named in honour of the former broadcaster who lost her own struggle with cancer, the trophy will be presented at the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards on Thursday.

Launched in 1999 when the inaugural winner was Jenny Pitman, another racing personality steeped in the Grand National, previous Yorkshire recipients include cancer fundraiser Jane Tomlinson in 2002, and snooker star Paul Hunter who was a posthumous winner of the accolade four years later.

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This year’s choice is particularly poignant; Josh Gifford, the trainer who inspired Champion and who nursed the gallant Aldaniti back to fitness from a career-threatening leg injury, has been critically ill in hospital.

Earlier this year Champion was treated for a heart attack – but he defied doctors so that he could lead a parade of former riders at this year’s Grand National who took part in a special charity race which raised funds for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

Set up in 1983, it has raised £12m for research into male cancers and has its own laboratory at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London where Champion was treated.

“It’s absolutely amazing, a great honour. I was shocked when I heard about it,” said Champion, 63, who raised £100,000 last year by visiting the UK’s 60 racecourses in 60 days.

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“We initially had a few thousand pounds sent in from people who won money on the horse. To go back to the hospital now and see scientists working in our research laboratory is fantastic to see.

“I had testicular cancer and was told I had a 35-40 per cent chance of living. I thought it was a death sentence. Now the chances are 95 per cent if it’s caught early enough.”