Friends of late Enfield canoeist take on gruelling 125-mile race

Elite canoeist James Smythe died of a rare cancer last year, reports Philbert Osei-Wusu

James Smythe died from cancer last year
James Smythe died from cancer last year

A team of canoeists is raising money for a rare cancer charity by competing in a gruelling 125-mile canoe race – in honour of their late friend from Enfield.

Canoeist James Smythe had previously competed at elite level in canoeing and was celebrating his 50th birthday in 2019 when he was diagnosed with a fast-growing, highly aggressive cancer, after finding a lump in his abdomen.

The lump was liposarcoma, a rare subtype of sarcoma cancer. Sarcomas are cancers that can affect connective and supporting tissues in the body and about 15 people are diagnosed with it every day in the UK.

James had surgery in April 2020 and the tumour, which weighed 5kgs, was removed. Keen to get back to the sport he loved, James was back training with his friend Stuart and by July 2021 even returned to winning ways when he claimed gold at the National Championships and with Stuart in the doubles for their age group. But shortly afterwards, James experienced a recurrence of his cancer.

James’s wife Katie said: “Stuart supported James until the end. I’ll never forget their last paddle in early February, when James had to stop as he didn’t have the strength any more.”

James died at North London Hospice on 18th April 2022 and Katie is now working with Sarcoma UK to raise awareness in his memory. Sarcoma UK is the national bone and soft tissue cancer charity which funds vital research and offers support for anyone affected by sarcoma cancer.

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The fundraising event inspired by James will include three crews made up of fellow canoeists, including Stuart, competing in the Devizes to Westminster (DW) International Canoe Race. It starts in Wiltshire this Saturday (8th) and finishes at Westminster Bridge the next day; a 125-mile route which includes having to get out and carry the boat 77 times around locks and obstacles.

James had completed the race multiple times. His son Ollie said: “I know how much DW meant to my dad, and he would be proud of me for supporting his friends.”

Dan, one of the DW competitors racing in honour of James, added: “It seems only fitting to remember and honour him by taking up the challenge ourselves this year. He brought so much laughter alongside his competitive side, and inspired others to not just love canoeing, but to give back and make a difference.”

The DW race team is aiming to raise £6,000 for Sarcoma UK. To donate:

Sarcoma UK support line experts are available by phone or email for information and support:
Call 0808 801 0401
Email [email protected]

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