At 4am on 28 October 2012, a year after his terminal cancer diagnosis, John Ellison had a dream and embarked on a "fabulous journey". This journey achieved something incredible for the first time: uniting and channelling the positive energy of the global climbing community for a good cause.
The charismatic, inspirational founder of the charity Climbers Against Cancer has sadly died.
John's funeral will be held at St. Wilfrid's Church, Longridge, on Thursday January 14, at 11am. Following the funeral service, the Ellison family would like to invite all attendees to the New Drop Inn, Longridge, to share memories in celebration of his life.
We remember below John's many achievements and his many climbing friends pay tribute to his life.
"To say my life has changed since CAC was born is an understatement and despite a predicament that would floor most people I am actually floating on a cloud of euphoria and excitement. Having so many fantastic friends around the world is humbling in itself but to also meet so many amazing new friends along the way is the thing that dreams are made of and I have to say I am extremely honoured and proud to know every one of you."
— John Ellison
John Ellison, always smiling
Like most 'Eureka' moments, this one seeded when John was letting his mind wander its own way, and it unlocked the essence of its creator: John was a people person who enjoyed volunteering at climbing competitions. Sitting among friends at the World Climbing Championships in Paris, he was suddenly struck by how unique the climbing community is:
"No matter what nationality, creed or colour there is a natural desire to support each other and encourage one another to succeed. Very few sports display this togetherness and it was at this point I realised that we are in fact an ‘extended family’. The world of climbing as a family has so much power to deliver a message across the globe."
A few months later the Climbers Against Cancer website was launched, as many of the best ones are: simply, with a powerful, novel idea. Brightly coloured, CAC-emblazoned t-shirts were for sale, and buyers were encouraged to post a photo in their new top. The idea caught on, probably more than any other trend in climbing clothing ever before.
Leo Houlding, Jason Pickles and the late Sean 'Stanley' Leary wearing CAC t-shirts, photo: Alastair Lee
John's dream was to donate to research facilities on each of the five continents, and eventually every country in the world, handing over cheques at climbing events. To date, CAC has sold over 25,000 t-shirts and expanded into beanies, underpants, inspirational talks, cheeky 50s-style calendars featuring top climbers and more.
What a legacy this incredible man leaves behind. Read on for a look at the stack of awards and achievements John picked up along his CAC journey. Our thoughts are with John's family, as well as with his many, many friends the world over, some of whom pay tribute below.
"ʻFortunateʼ may not be the word most would expect to hear from someone dealing with terminal cancer but that is exactly how I feel and ʻhappyʼ may be another term some have problems with. There is a clarity to life now that has been born out of the prognosis. To see the beauty of every moment, the vivid colours of life and the energy that exudes from happiness is a gift that has been awarded on the back of such sadness."
— John Ellison
John touched the lives of many in the British climbing community. Below is a mix of tributes and CAC twitter posts from over the years:
"Last Sunday, I lost a great friend. Despite the fact we knew this would happen, it's painful. I've struggled with words over the past few days. I knew John well before his cancer diagnosis and he hadn't changed even a little bit! Always a good mix of smiles and jokes with an enthusiastic life approach! He always had time to chat with you (with anyone!). During the making of the 'Impossible' film we sat down for a very honest and intimate interview. I cried at the end... like I cry now! You will be missed John! My thoughts go to John's family."
— Lukasz Warzecha
John Ellison with Andy Kirkpatrick
"I first met John 14 years ago when I was ten, at junior climbing competitions. He was volunteering to help out. He was a personality. At that age you pay little attention to much and all you really want to do is mess around, so what was it about John that makes me vividly remember him back then? He had that something. You can't describe it, but he had it, which made him the inspirational, motivated, determined, happy, cheery, stick-two-fingers-up-at-cancer man that he was. That 'something' shone through in him and will continue to shine through his awesome charity,CAC.
John you're a foot... Leg-end... Legend! Oh what a hideous joke, although as I remember John's jokes and humour were on a similar level to mine, so if he's reading I'm sure he'll appreciate it! We'll all miss you John."
— Pete Whittaker
John Ellison with Jim Pope
"I got to know John through competing as a kid. He was always chatty and supportive when needed. A memorable character! I will always treasure the days helping him set up the new office for its open day. Even though he had terminal cancer he would always want to talk and listen. It's only when you saw him in pain away from events that you began to realise how bad it was. He said sometimes he had to put on a front to mask the pain. No matter how bad it was though he always made time for other people, he genuinely cared and he always helped if he could. He faced the bad with the same equanimity as the good - a lesson that we could all learn from. He did such an incredible thing starting CAC and turned it into a huge success with his energy and passion for life. The climbing community has lost a great character and friend. I'm sure everyone will miss him dearly but also be proud of what he has achieved - I hope we can continue to build on his legacy."
— Emma Twyford
"John was a very special person. In the face of cancer, he did not let his illness define him. He stood outside of his personal experience and put his time, energy and courage towards the creation of Climbers Against Cancer. Through his efforts and the support of his climbing community, he raised cancer awareness and also funds for cancer research centres. Not only this, but he did it with a smile. John, you will be greatly missed but your work will never be forgotten. Thank you."
— Mina Leslie-Wujastyk
"I struggle to remember when I first met John and Charlie. It seems like another world when John walked through the door at BoulderUK. BUK was in its infancy and so was Charlie, she was a little climbing star. Instantly John was everyones friend. It was only the beginning of many fun and slightly alcoholic fuelled dancing adventures in Blackburns Jazzy Keks. We climbed hard and partied hardish. John never stopped dancing. He was a man who always had time for others. Party on John."
— Gareth Parry
"John's smile and relentless Lancastrian banter will be fondly remembered at comps and crags all over the world for many years to come. I will always remember his 'throw caution to the wind' attitude, going to extraordinary measures to achieve exactly what he and the charity he founded required. In his eyes, nothing could stop him and, in his words, he was "...too busy to die".
John led a sustained charge in the fight against cancer through fundraising, donations and increasing awareness amongst people all over the globe. He met CEO's, Presidents, event organisers etc and spoke to multiple thousands of people - all to ensure that the word was spread, that the message was shouted loud and that more money could be raised to improve treatments and develop cures. We have lost a special man."
— Liam Lonsdale
"An inspiration. Always with a smile putting our moaning to shame. When we think we are having a bad day or a run of bad luck. We aren't, not really. Such an integral part of the climbing community. He will be sadly missed. In the climbing world new 9a's and E10's may be long remembered, but few people make such a difference."
— Steve McClure
Wideboyz Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker giving a fundraising lecture for CAC
"What John chose to do with his last few years is truly inspirational. Despite being sick he put his heart and soul and energy into helping others. In my mind mind how he chose to do it is even more inspiring; he didn't live his life in fear of his illness or in fear of death, instead, he always had a smile on his face and came across as a lucky man, not an unlucky one. I will always remember him for that!"
— Hazel Findlay
John also united and inspired the global climbing community:
In fact, John inspired everyone, whether they had been personally touched by cancer or not, young and old:
Some of CAC's many achievements and awards to date:
In March 2015, John was appointed an Honorary Member of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC):
John was an inspiring speaker on the subject of living in hope and happiness:
In September 2015, John was awarded the prestigious Arco Rock Legends Climbing Ambassador award in Italy:
The jury said: "To John Ellison, for the courage and strength with which he interprets his life through adversity, inspiring the world’s climbing community with motivation and visions that form the universal values of solidarity."
John said: "I am one of you and it’s thanks to you that I’m here. This award belongs to everyone, we all received it."
CAC attracted lots of sponsorship. In 2014, John opened the doors of the new CAC offices:
In 2014, CAC also launched a cheeky 1950s style calendar featuring 13 of the best female climbers from six countries and three continents across the world, including Shauna Coxsey, Anna Stöhr and Sierra Blair-Coyle:
In May 2014 John received an award from the UIAA for contributions to international mountaineering:
In April 2014 CAC became the International Federation of Sport Climbing's first official charity:
In January 2014 John won a Social awareness award at the huge European outdoor tradeshow, ISPO:
John's incredible legacy is sure to live on, with everyone wearing their CAC t-shirts with even more pride than ever before.
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