“You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.” —John Ellison, founder of Climbers Against Cancer
Englishman John Ellison was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011 and given only a few years to live. Ellison had been judging climbing comps for about a decade, and at the world championships in Paris, nearly a year after his diagnosis, he had an epiphany: The climbing community was like a vast and yet very close family. He saw climbers and coaches from all over the world loudly cheering each other on. Surely, he thought, there must be a way to harness all that positive energy for a greater good.
Ellison, a gregarious, 50-year-old father of one, had already raised a bit of money for cancer research at climbing events, and now he broached a much bigger idea with friends Graeme Alderson, the longtime British coach and competition official, and Shauna Coxsey, a leading British boulderer. Their enthusiasm spurred Ellison on. He and another friend designed the distinctive Climbers Against Cancer logos and colorful T-shirts, and they launched the CAC fund-raising website in January 2013.
Almost overnight, those CAC shirts seemed to be everywhere, from the crags of Catalunya to the competition walls of Slovenia. The shirt sales (£15 each, or about $24) and other donations brought in more than $240,000 in just 10 months. In November, CAC (climbersagainstcancer.org) began selling a 2014 wall calendar featuring Alex Puccio, Anna Stöhr, Alex Johnson, and other top female climbers in 1950s-style pin-up poses. In keeping with CAC’s international focus, the money is being doled out to cancer-research organizations worldwide—Australia, France, and Canada so far.
Ellison doesn’t know how much time he has left. But he has vowed to continue CAC’s mission of raising money and demystifying cancer as long as he can—and to foster a powerful international movement that will long outlive him.
More Golden Pitons:
Look for the full Golden Pitons feature story, including dozens more climbs and climbers, in our February issue (Climbing 322).