The North Yorkshire racing legend was given the diagnosis less than 24 hours before he began a 191-mile walk to mark the 40th anniversary of his miracle win at Aintree on Aldaniti.
Yet, despite scans confirming the cause of nagging back ache was a tumour on a kidney, the 72-year-old, from Guisborough, chose to delay treatment in order to complete his charity walk.
It began at Aintree on the day after this year’s National, won by the history-making Rachael Blackmore on Minella Times, and will finish today in the West Sussex village of Findon.
Here Champion will, for the first time in years, ride a horse from the village to the stables of trainer Nick Gifford whose late father Josh nursed Aldanity back from serious injury and stoody by his stricken rider as he underwent pioneering chemotherapy treatment in 1979.
It’s a poignant journey that Champion completed on foot in 1981 as crowds of wellwishers turned out for Aldaniti’s homecoming a day after their National triumph.
He believes it’s a fitting way to end the #Bobs40for40Challenge which has already surpassed £40,000, its initial target, for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.
This has involved a series of walks at stables across Britain that total 191 miles - the same number of days that he underwent chemotherapy for testicular cancer after being given just a 30 per cent chance of survival.
“It will be really special,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I’m going to get on a horse and ride from the village (Findon) back up to Aldaniti’s old yard.
“Loads of memories are coming back and I’m looking forward to it - provided I haven’t forgotten how to ride. It will be fine. It’s like riding a bike. You never forget.
“I can remember when the old horse (Aldaniti) came back on the Sunday morning after the National - thousands of people came to see him. It was terrific and a lovely day, which always helps.”
Champion decided to undertake the special sponsored walk to boost funds for his charity which has seen its income hit by the pandemic.
He’s already raised over £15m since his National win - the charity was set up after racing fans, inspired by his courage, sent their winnings to the Giffords stable and the Royal Marsden Hospital where he was treated. It is now funding research work to speed up the diagnosis of prostate cancer.
But Champion had, more recently, become perturbed by back pain that he attributed to an old racing injury.
However he finally went to see a doctor who recommended scans and further tests which culminated with the tumour diagnosis.
“I’ve got a tumour on one of my kidneys,” he explained. “I’ve got to have the kidney out - or, hopefully, just part of it.
“It’s one of those things and, hopefully, all will be fine afterwards. I was having terrible back pain before I started the walk.
“It was a lot worse so I rang the doctor up and said that it was worse than ever. They did three scans and phoned me on the Saturday before the walk - Grand National day.
“AlI did was start Googlng things on the internet. It was the worst thing I did. If you Google illness you’re going to die. Don’t do it.”
Champion says he continues to be inspired by the young cancer sufferers that he saw in the Royal Marsden undergoing debilitating treatment with great humility as he contemplated giving up and going home to die.
He says he is indebted to regular physio treatment from Sir Peter O’Sullevan House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehab centre in Newmarket.
Meanwhile leading owner Martin Tedham, whose Sky Pirate won at Cheltenham this year, also provided a support vehicle for the walk - his Wasdell Group sponsors top trainer Jonjo O’Neill.
And while Champion says he has found it hard walking up and down steep gallops through long grass, every step has been compliant with social distancing he has remained motivated by a desire to help his charity, thank the NHS and offer hope to all cancer sufferers.
“It’s been hard work, but fun,” he added. “When the pandemic struck, I felt I needed to do my bit to help the charity. There was no question of calling off the walk.
“If I say I will do something, I will do it. The old jump jockey in me kicked in because we used to ride with broken bones. I’ll be fine.”
To support Bob Champion’s walk, go to https://www.bobchampion.org.uk/bobs-40-for-40-walk.htm
Racing legends back Bob Champion
FORMER champion jockeys Jonjo O’Neill and John Francome today salute Bob Champion’s courage after a tumour was diagnosed on his kidney.
Both rode against Champion and feared the worst when he was diagnosed with cancer - then a life sentence - over 40 years ago.
“I have known Bob a long time and it was all a shock to the system when it all first happened,” said O’Neill who also overcame cancer after his own riding career finished.
“To beat the disease, it was a lot tougher and rougher in those days. He was a fit lad, that helped, and his win on Aldaniti was a fairytale. What his charity is now doing, it’s inspirational.”
Both O’Neill and Francome, the former TV pundit, have joined Champion on part of his latest walk.
“I’ll tell you what he is doing. He’s doing a sterling job as he’s done for 40 years,” said Francome.
“He’s incredibly hardworking for his charity and we must have walked 10 miles the other day. He was as strong at the end as he was at the beginning.
“He sets a very good example to the people who are supporting him and the people who are suffering with cancer. They see him and they think ‘I can survive this’.”
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