I was a top jockey who won the Grand National after being given six months to live – now I raise millions for charity | The Sun

SCAN down the list of legendary jockeys who have won the Grand National and one name sticks out above all the others.

Not for the manner of his victory – but for overcoming odds that, for once, had nothing to do with horse racing.

Can you imagine winning the greatest race in the world just two years after being told by doctors you had six months to live?

Mind you, it wasn't just the jockey who battled back from the brink of despair, the horse did too.

This is the incredible story of Bob Champion, Aldaniti, a British sporting icon… and a remarkable life that now sees him making millions for charity.

Born in Sussex in 1948, Champion – a fitting name for what he would go onto become – had horses and racing in his blood.

His childhood was one spent on horseback and a move into the jockey ranks seemed a natural progression.

By the time he was in his early thirties, Champion was one of the best jumps jockeys in the country.

Then, with the sky the limit and everything going well, his world came crashing down.

In 1979, Champion was told by doctors he would be dead in six months.

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He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The only chance of survivial was to sign up to take drugs that, at best, had a 40 per cent success rate.

And so Champion agreed, letting his young body be ravaged by intense treatment he labelled 'barbaric' in the hope of proving doctors wrong.

His brave decision was the right one, even if it robbed his body of its natural capacity.

He said: "Thankfully it worked but getting fit was the hard bit because I'd lost all my muscle, everything about me. I weighed nine stone.

"I lost 30 per cent of my lung capacity and, believe it or not, that was the hardest thing about coming back.

"I had to work really hard to get fit."

Just two years later he was back in the saddle and jockeyed up on Aldaniti in the Aintree showpiece.

The two had a bond that went beyond man and beast.

Aldaniti was one of the best staying chasers in the country – third in the 1979 Gold Cup, second in the Scottish Grand National – when he suffered a horror injury at Sandown in November that year.

One vet said the blow to the leg was so bad that the horse should be put down.

But trainer Josh Gifford, thankfully, thought otherwise and nursed the horse back to full health.

Truth be told it was a minor miracle Champion and Aldaniti were even able to line up in the 1981 Grand National.

But they say class is permanent and the duo proved it, running out easy four length winners after being sent off 10-1.

Champion later said he thought victory was a 'formality', the incredible horse giving him a 'dream ride' over the world's most demanding and dangerous track.

If it sounds like the stuff of Hollywood – the victory was dubbed 'racing's greatest fairytale' – then that's because it is.

Champion and Aldaniti won the BBC Sports Personalty of the Year Team Award eight months later.

In 1982 he was on This Is Your Life and made an MBE.

Iconic late actor John Hurt played the jockey in a 1983 film inspired by their remarkable tale.

Truthfully, what really mattered that year, though, was the formation of the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

Some 40 years later it has raised more than £10million.

The Trust supports and raises funds for the Bob Champion Cancer Research Laboratory which, according to its website, forms part of the 'largest male-dedicated research facility in Europe'.

And it has its own designated research team at the Bob Champion Research and Education Building at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Norfolk.

England goalkeeper legend Peter Shilton, cricket icon David Gower, tennis great Greg Rusedski and TV star Clare Balding are among the vice presidents.

Champion, now 75, might find it difficult getting into the saddle these days.

But racecourses continue to go all out to spread awareness of his charity.

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Just last month Plumpton held a record-breaking meeting where more than £50,000 was raised.

Champion by name, champion by nature, few jockeys have ever done so much for racing or the wider world.


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