On Sunday 27 December 2015 John Ellison, the founder of the charity Climbers against Cancer, passed away.
Inspirational. Fun. Courageous. Positive. Smiling. These are the words that seem to be used most frequently in describing John Ellison, the man who in the space of just a few years achieved the unthinkable, unprecedented feat of bringing the entire climbing community together through Climbers against Cancer, the charity he founded in January 2013 in order to raise awareness about cancer and gather funds for research against this disease.
Ellison, from Lancashire, England, was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the end of 2011 and while watching the 2012 Climbing World Championships in Paris he realized that the unique support climbers offer each other, regardless of nationality, creed or colour, could be channeled towards a greater good: finding a cure for cancer. CAC came to life a few months later and with it Ellison embarked on what he himself would later describe as a “fabulous journey.”
The road that Ellison travelled for the next three years was nothing short of remarkable. Despite his illness, despite the regular treatment he received and the physical pain, Ellison travelled extensively for the cause he so greatly believed in, attending events, competitions, simply being here, there and everywhere, for everyone, always. In return he received support, total and unconditional, from climbers worldwide, of all ages and abilities. More than 25,000 CAC T-shirts worn with pride by thousands of climbers across the globe are testament to how much the CAC message struck an immediate cord, as are the 500,000 euro raised so far, destined to various cancer research centers on all five continents.
While Ellison’s work was in many ways grassroots, the far-reaching effects did not go unnoticed among larger organizations. The IFSC for instance acknowledged his efforts by appointing him Honorary Member and then selecting CAC as its first official charity, and further awards and accolades followed such as Climbing Magazine’s “Golden Piton” for CAC’s social impact, the ISPO Communication – Social Awareness prize and the Arco Rock Legends Dryarn Award 2015 for his inspirational efforts as an ambassador to this sport.
These figures and results are certainly astonishing, but what cannot be put into numbers is just as astounding: the overwhelming solidarity Ellison received from all the climbers he met. It was not uncommon to see queues of climbers wishing to take photographs with him, and it was this love – he confessed – that drove him on, that gave him the energy and courage he so desperately needed to fight his personal battle.
Ellison was, justifiably, proud of CAC’s numbers and achievements, but he continued to underline the fact that this success was by no means due to him alone, but thanks to each and every member of the entire climbing community that had supported him. He reiterated his belief last summer as he took the stage in Arco to receive the Arco Rock Legends Award on behalf of the entire climbing community, by stating “This award belongs to everyone, we all received it.”
On that same occasion, speaking to a crowd of youngsters during the World Youth Championships in summer, a visually moved Ellison also explained “Everything that happens to you in life can be turned into an opportunity.”
This positive energy, Ellison’s boundless enthusiasm, determination and courage will be sorely missed. But if the lasting effects of his “fabulous journey” are that we have become united as part of a “huge extended family”, that we can perhaps speak more openly about cancer, without being frozen by fear and that we grasp the value of life and the importance of making every day count, then his inspirational, positive and courageous efforts have not been in vain.
Keep on climbing John, it’s been an honour. Cheerio.