Hang gliding champ was daredevil until the end

Swindon Advertiser: Former European hang-gliding champion John Fennell Former European hang-gliding champion John Fennell

FORMER European hang gliding champion John Fennell has died just five weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.

John, 67, of Wanborough, suffered a severe stroke in December, at which stage doctors told him it was only a matter of time before he lost the battle.

A motorcycle enthusiast and keen tennis player, John represented Britain at hang-gliding championships around the world, and even starred in a commercial in the 1980s.

He died at home last Saturday with wife Shelley, 63, son Alexander, 40, and daughter Madeline, 37, by his bedside.

“It all just happened so quickly,” said Shelley. “It was only five weeks from when we were told to the end. He never complained of being in pain, and kept on as long as he could. My son managed to get home from America despite the cold weather, and he held on until then. The stroke was the final straw.

“At the end of November he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which had spread to the liver, and he was given three to four months to live. Then on 16 December he had a severe stroke.

“At the time doctors were unable to recommend chemotherapy. A few years ago he had a triple heart bypass, and chemotherapy would have only postponed the inevitable.

“December has been awful. He had not been well for a while, and he had been so tired, barely eating. He was like most men, and kept putting off going to the doctor.”

John spent his life chasing thrills, and took up hang gliding years ago.

“He got into it around 1975, and started off doing it around Dunstable Downs,” said Shelley. “He said he had just seen this sport he might enjoy doing, and it all went from there. “Back then it was basic, and was just a parachute and a bar to hang on to. Three of them had to go to court because people were accusing them of flying dangerously around Dunstable. But the case got dropped because of costs. You can’t tell a bird not to fly in certain areas.

“I have lost count of the number of motorbikes he has had over the years.

“He rode them since he was 16, and always had one of his own from the age of 22. The old ones we had longer, but they would break down about once a week.

“He quite often wanted to be in control, and he just loved speed.”

Madeline and Alexander also picked up their dad’s love for motorbikes.

“Me and my brother also have full motorbike licences because he would say it was a really useful thing to have,” said Madeline.

“He got pulled over a few times, and more often than not he would take off his helmet and the police officer would tell him he should know better at his age. He was always a bit surprised that he was regarded as a senior. “He was 67, and insisted on playing tennis with any age group, and it was the same with the hang-gliding.

“He used to build his own equipment and jump off the top of a hill in his jeans. The prize one year he came back with was a pack of playing cards.”

John’s motorcyclist friends have offered to form a procession behind the hearse travelling to Kingsdown Crematorium on Thursday.

Donations are welcome to Prospect Hospice, The Stroke Association, or Swindon Stroke Support Group.

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