Champion won National in 1981 despite the fight against cancer, but Bob is just as proud of his charity work
Talking to Bob Champion offers a series of reminders of how close one of the greatest stories in Grand National history never happened.
How close the film script of Champion’s journey through chemotherapy to conquer partner Aldaniti’s cancer and ex-invalid Aldaniti to a 1981 victory was never written.
And how close to his charity, which has raised £ 15 million and counts towards cancer treatment and research, has run out of inspiration.
Bob Champion plans to walk the Grand National track as part of a series of sponsored walks
There was a time when Champion, after his weakened body succumbed to septicemia, was whisked away at 200 km / h by his brother-in-law on an emergency flight to Royal Marsden Hospital on the M4 to London.
Stopped by the police, a speeding ticket turned into a merciless escort who took him to the hospital just in time.
“When the police saw how bad I looked, they helped me get to the hospital with half an hour,” Champion recalls.
‘I would have died. They had to change my blood. I don’t remember much about that day, but I do remember a sense of relief when I thought I was dying. It didn’t hurt and it was a release. That is the truth.’
Then the moment the jockey, mentally broken, told his nurses that he could no longer take the experimental chemotherapy and wanted to go home to die peacefully.
The 72-year-old’s charity has raised more than £ 15 million for cancer treatment and research
“I gave up,” says Champion, who had testicular and lung cancer. I told the nurses that I was calling my sister to pick me up. They said, “Bob, just go for a walk and think about it.” Finally, I walked back through the children’s ward. They all had chemo and didn’t look as miserable as I did. I was ashamed of myself.
“I went back to the nurse and said,” Wire me up again. ” But if I hadn’t gone through the children’s ward, I promise I was on my way home. ‘
The stories will be retold this week as we countdown to the 40th anniversary of Aldaniti’s Grand National victory as the now 72-year-old champion returns to Aintree.
The day after the National, he will run the four and a quarter mile race distance as part of a series of sponsored walks covering 191 miles, the same number of days the champion endured chemotherapy.
Scheduled to join the Covid-19 protocols, the journey ends with Findon in Sussex, where Josh Gifford Aldaniti trained.
The result Champion is hoping for for this time is more money to continue funding the two cancer research facilities he helped build at the Royal Marsden and in Norwich, in partnership with the University of East Anglia.
The champion returns to Aintree for the 40th anniversary of Aldaniti’s Grand National victory
There was no great master plan to begin with. “When I won the National, people who had supported me sent their winnings to the Royal Marsden, take care of me,” he says.
‘There was quite a lot and we didn’t really know what to do with it. So we set up a room where family or someone who had chemo could sit. But there was by far a lot more money for that than we needed. ‘
Nick Embiricos, who owned Aldaniti with his wife Valda, was instrumental in establishing and running the Bob Champion Cancer Trust. They had already been major players in the fight for Champion’s life.
The dream of riding Aldaniti in Aintree kept Champion through chemotherapy
The dream of riding Aldaniti in Aintree was to put Champion through chemotherapy until tragedy struck Sandown in November 1979.
“Halfway through my treatment, Aldaniti sustained a leg injury at Sandown between the last and penultimate fence,” Champion says.
“I remember when the vets turned to Mr. and Mrs. E and said it would be best to put him to sleep.
But Ms Embiricos said, “Bob always said Aldaniti would win a National, we’re going to take him home”.
‘The horse was great. He was tied up in his stable for six months, his leg in a cast. He couldn’t lie down or walk around. All he could do was eat.
“I couldn’t have done it, I would have gone mad.”
By the time Aldaniti returned with a victory over Ascot six weeks before the 1981 Grand National, Champion was a walking marvel of emerging medical science.
He had been given a 30 percent chance of life. His weight had dropped to 8 pounds and he had lost 30 percent of his lung capacity.
In comparison, the Grand National was a breeze. Champion and Aldaniti jumped forward at Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit and never took the lead, finishing four lengths before the second Spartan Missile.
Twelve months later, the duo fell at the first fence and a few days later Champion retired. His race for life only just came out of second gear.
He was given a 30 percent chance of living and he had lost 30 percent of his lung capacity
What makes him proud now is the role his charity has played in turning the death sentence into a 95 percent chance of recovery from testicular cancer if detected early enough.
‘I am proud to build and run two research laboratories. We know they are doing well, ”he says. “The dream would be a big breakthrough that cures all cancers, but I just want to keep raising money to save and extend human lives.”
In the end, it was all possible thanks to the result of one horse race – and the amazing stamina of two heroes.