Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Climbers Against Cancer (CAC) - the phenomenon

Climbers Against Cancer (CAC) has done something that no other brand, charity or organisation has been able to do in the rock climbing community. It has unified everyone under a single banner. It has brought a wide range of people together, from across the world, to support, raise awareness and generate funds for an incredibly worthy purpose.

I have been climbing for more than a decade (maybe not that much time to some people) and I have never seen the climbing community coalesce in such a way. When I go to my local wall, or any wall for that matter, I will no doubt see at least a dozen people wearing a CAC t-shirt. Indeed, I know individuals who own half a dozen or more of the garments themselves - a fresh one for every day of the week perhaps. And for every one sold, more money goes to the fight against cancer. 

How does something like this start? How does a movement of this magnitude gain traction and raise a thousand, ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand and more for this fight? It takes a dedicated, passionate, charismatic and hard working leader to run it, front it and promote it on a global scale. In the case of CAC, that man is the very humble John Ellison. John has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was not long after he received the news that he came up with the idea of CAC and from there it has grown into a global phenomenon.

I've had the pleasure of meeting John. A friend, Jenny, had recruited me to take part in the Sheffield Half Marathon for Cancer Research UK, on behalf of CAC. Having never been a runner - the last time I ran for a purpose other than being late was in PE lessons in school - taking on a half marathon was a big deal for me. The team was made up of 11 Sheffield climbers and we raised £1,612.50. Following the race, and when all the monies were collected, Jenny arranged a photo with John and a representative from Cancer Research UK (see below).

Before the shot, however, I took the time to listen to John talk about CAC and the opportunities it has brought him. He speaks from his heart, every word with full belief and without inhibition. He speaks like a man who understands implicitly that life is short and every moment should be utilised to its fullest - no regrets, say what you mean because you might not get another chance. He humbly explains the success of CAC being down to the climbing community as much as himself, using a favoured analogy: "It's like being in a club and I'm the DJ. The DJ is rubbish without a crowd and the crowd isn't interested without a DJ".

On how he remains so upbeat despite knowing what he knows, he simply explains: "I always wake up with a smile."

John recently featured in a BBC 2 Culture Show special on Rankin's new photo exhibition "Alive: Rankin Faces Death". The famous photographer captured dozens of people in his lens who are "alive in the face of death" as he described it on the programme. John is one of those people - immortalised on film and canvas, bearing his CAC t-shirt for all the world to see. I would recommend watching the programme on the BBC iPlayer before it disappears. If you do miss it, try to get along to the exhibition.

I believe the climbing community has adopted CAC so wholeheartedly due to a number of reasons. Firstly, John is a great ambassador and has worked tirelessly to promote the charity around the world. Secondly, climbers love a good, simple t-shirt. And, although tugging on the slightly less high-minded financial strings here, CAC t-shirts are much cheaper than other climbing brands. Thirdly, the rock climbing glitterati have been pictured wearing CAC products - from Chris Sharma to Leo Holding - and as much as people like to say they don't wear a product just because Sharma wears it, there is always some hero-worship out there.

Lastly, and this is the most important reason, CAC gives the climbing community something it didn't have before. A big, well run charity all of our own - Climbers Against Cancer. It is specific to the climbing community and also tackles the most infamous of diseases. It gives the tight-knit climbing community an identity that is shared around the globe and, at the same time, raises funds for a much deserved cause. For this, we should all be grateful to the DJ and his vision.

While John's time may be limited, CAC can hopefully thrive and continue in the future - growing alongside the ever expanding climbing community.

To learn more about CAC, buy a t-shirt and donate, visit the website.

This blog has since been republished on UKC.