Bob Champion and Aldaniti
Bob Champion was one of Britain’s top jump jockeys when, in 1979, he discovered he had cancer and was given only months to live.
His illness went into remission after extensive chemotherapy, and Champion then went on to record his most memorable racing triumph, riding Aldaniti to victory in the 1981 Grand National.
Aldaniti had himself almost been retired because of a serious leg injury, and the stage was set for one of sport’s most poignant comebacks.
Champion and his horse held on to beat Spartan Missile at Aintree, and their triumph over adversity was captured in the 1983 film Champions, starring John Hurt.
Aldaniti died at the age of 27 in 1997, but Champion is still going strong and has raised more than £3m for cancer research.
Niki Lauda’s life was in the balance after he was badly burned in an horrific accident at the Nurburgring in Germany in August 1976.
The Austrian pulled through, but few people thought he would ever drive at the highest level again. But, amazingly, the 1975 world champion was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari just 30 days later. He went on to claim his second world title the following season, and won a third championship – for McLaren – in 1982.
Lauda chalked up a total of 25 Grand Prix wins in his 14-year F1 career, but his determination to race again – and win – after nearly dying have ensured him a special place in motorsport history.
Having worked as a consultant to Ferrari from 1992-97, the qualified pilot now concentrates his energies on his Lauda Air company.
Many pundits thought that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was taking a big gamble when he signed Kanu in January 1999.
The Nigeriani nternational had been advised to give up football after doctors discovered a serious heart defect while he was at Inter Milan. But the 1996 African Player of the Year was determined to continue his career and underwent major surgery in America to correct his cardiac condition.
After a lengthy recuperation and rehabilitation, he made a full recovery, but Inter’s doubts about his long-term health led them to cash in by selling him to the Gunners.
Kanu was an immediate hit in the Premiership, and has so far scored 24 goals in 67 games for Arsenal. He was named African Player of the Year for the second time last year.
Scottish striker-turned-midfielder Darren Jackson was an integral part of the Celtic team that would go on to win the 1997-98 Championship when he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. The condition, in which a build-up of fluid inside the cranial cavity can lead to brain damage and even death, needed major surgery, but Jackson was back in action just three months later.
His swift return to form earned him a place in the Scotland squad for the 1998 World Cup finals in France.
After a loan spell with Coventry, he joined Hearts for £300,000 in March 1999, and continues to be an influential player for the Edinburgh side.
Former Olympic and triple World 110m hurdles champion Ludmila Engquist underwent surgery for breast cancer just months before the 1999 World Athletics Championships in Seville.
Her illness was announced to the world by the Swedish Olympic Committee who, in a statement, said: “Naturally, Ludmila will not compete this season.”
But they underestimated the determination of the former Russian athlete, who became a Swedish citizen just ahead of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
She managed to regain her fitness in time to mount a medal challenge in Spain, and in the final took bronze behind America’s Gail Devers and runner-up Glory Alozie of Nigeria.
Belgian footballer Yves Vanderhaege nearly died at the age of 18 after collapsing during a training session.
He went into a coma and was given only a five per cent chance of surviving. The initial diagnosis was a brain tumour but his illness was later discovered to be viral.
So close was Vanderhaege to death that one newspaper mistakenly published his obituary, but within three weeks of leaving hospital he was back in training.
Some 12 years after his scare, the hard-working midfielder finally made his international debut in 1999, and was part of Belgium’s Euro 2000 squad.
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