A FORMER world class athlete has enlisted his Olympian friends to help raise money for the hospital unit which saved his life 20 years ago.

John Caine (73), an ex-international runner, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1999, but declared he owed his life to Prof. Mike Griffin and his team on the Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle.

To show his appreciation, John, of Riding Mill, will tackle the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route from France to Spain.

And he will be joined by two Olympic medallists – Great North Run founder Brendan Foster and Ian Stewart – as well as former player Eric Wilkins and Hexham resident Andrew Weaver.

John, a race director of the Great North Run for 25 years and promotions manager for sportswear giant Nike, wanted to show his gratitude to the team which saved his life 20 years ago.

He said: “Prof. Griffin recently retired and it occurred to me that it was the 20th anniversary since my surgery. So the fund-raiser is to celebrate 20 years of life.

“I owe everything to him and the team on the ward, which is the largest specialist clinic in Europe and achieves successful outcomes for patients that rank amongst the best in the world.

“I shall forever be grateful to those wonderful people who took care of me in 1999. Without their expertise, I would never have met any of my six grandchildren and I wouldn’t be enjoying my active life today.”

The team will complete the trek over five weeks, and were relishing the challenge which will take them from south west France and over the Pyrenees mountain range into Spain.

They were aiming to raise £50,000 for the unit, known as Ward 38.

People can donate to the challenge by visiting https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JohnCaine2.

John said: “I cannot forget that I’ve been very lucky.

“I hope that better diagnosis and treatment will improve the luck of future patients.”