Rob Burrow’s strength and dignity changed all of our lives - Christa Ackroyd

So much has been written about the inspirational man that was Rob Burrow. Even writing the word ‘was’ seems so stark. And so damn unfair. What can I add to that which has already been said?

But there is more to say. And more we all can do to ensure he lives on.

At this week’s Yorkshire Choice Awards in Leeds we paid tribute, as so many have done, to his life and legacy. Both Rob and his wonderful wife Lindsey were past winners.

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And this time last year they were there as a family to see and hear their talented daughter Macy sing her heart out for a room filled with other amazing people who each have made a difference as to how we live in this county of ours. None more so than that little girl’s daddy.

Kevin Sinfield with Rob Burrow after completing his Extra Mile Challenge of 101 miles in under 24hrs.Kevin Sinfield with Rob Burrow after completing his Extra Mile Challenge of 101 miles in under 24hrs.
Kevin Sinfield with Rob Burrow after completing his Extra Mile Challenge of 101 miles in under 24hrs.

Last year moved everyone to tears. It moved Rob to tears. And last night we wept once more for a family with three young children who have lost a father, a husband, a son and a man who has and will continue to change lives for ever. But also for a man whom we will all never forget.

In dark times we will remember his strength and dignity when, as his condition worsened, he vowed never to give up on life, to fight with his every last breath. Because every day was worth living . And so he lived right until the end.

Rob Burrow was a giant among men. Diminutive in stature he changed the face of rugby league, a sport he was told he could never compete in because he wasn’t big enough. But Rob Burrow had the heart of a lion, the agility of a gazelle, and the speed and cunning of a cheetah. He changed the face of rugby league. But in facing the biggest challenge of his life and his horrific diagnosis five years ago, he changed all our lives.

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He faced death and dying as he had faced his competitors on the field of play, with a smile, with strength, with humour and with an attitude that reminds us that every day is precious and worth fighting for.

They breed them tough in Rugby League. It is a brutal sport, one which takes no prisoners. It is also a dangerous sport where recent studies suggest those who play it are at more risk than others of contracting motor neurone disease. There is no cure. And with that no hope. Only Rob changed that too. He gave hope to others. He also gave hope of a cure.

But what he and his amazing pal Kevin Sinfield has done these last four years is more than just raise millions of pounds, more than simply throw a spotlight on MND.

They have shown that the toughest of men can and should talk about their emotions. That friendship, and there can no no stronger friendships than theirs, is simply another word for love.

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What is more they were not afraid to express it in those simple terms. To hear two former tough rugby plates who met as teenagers show what love really is will also change the way men express theirs for each other.

That it is not wrong to weep. It is not wrong to reach out and rely on others for help and support. It is not wrong to shoulder the burden for someone else and do it gladly. Or it shouldn’t be.

When Kevin Sinfield lifted his friend from his wheelchair and carried him over the finish line at the marathon resurrected in his honour it was beautiful. That Kevin kissed him was beautiful. That they were not afraid to use the word love. That the world saw that brotherhood could be soft, it could be emotional, it could be gentle and open and honest was as life changing as the legacy Rob Burrow leaves behind and that his friend I know will continue.

Just as it is fitting as the flowers mounted up outside the Headingley stadium which was their spiritual home and where their friendship began one sign read Go that Extra Mile for a Mate.

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I wrote at the start of this column that we can all help. And we can. Rob and Kevin shone the spotlight on a terrible disease that struggles with funding to find a cure. It seems with more money we are on the brink of finding one. They made it their mission not just to raise money but to push for real understanding of the disease that affects five millions people in this country.

And you can do the same. The friends were there for each other every step of the way. They pushed for change right at the heart of government when they went to Number 10 and persuaded the powers that be to pledge 50 million pounds for research.

Research that could crack this disease or at least treat it. Who knows with the turmoil of a general election whether that pledge has already been honoured. But it must be It must not be lost in the weeks and months of political ping pong that lie ahead. And we can ensure that does not happen as Rob would have wanted. . And so you can write to your newly elected MP whoever they may be demanding that they ensure that money is paid. That they honour their promise to two friends who were there for each other and for others.

Nearer to home in Yorkshire there is also a physical reminder of Rob’s determination, the £6m centre that will bear his name to be built at Seacroft hospital. in Leeds. This week there was a terrible but poetic irony that the first sod turning ceremony was planned for Monday the day after Rob died. That it went ahead was a testament to his wishes to make a difference.

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That centre will be the first of its kind in the country. It will have the very best of care. It will be a place where families can come together and make memories. It will be a safe space to cry, to endure and to carry on right up unto the last minute.

It will be built. The money has all but been raised by Rob and Kevin. That it will continue and grow is up to us. That is becomes the very beacon of the very best that is offered to those who follow is Rob’s legacy for Yorkshire. And beyond. Because hopefully others will be built elsewhere.

Rob Burrow was a remarkable man. That he leaves a sense of hope, positivity and love for those who at present know there is no medical intervention that can change their prognosis is life changing in itself. Because people now understand the disease so much more because of Rob Burrow and his decision to let people in to the last years of his all too short life.

There is no doubt we who met him will never forget him. Those who saw him play will always remember him as one of the greats in Rugby League. There is no doubt that all he has achieved will shine on for years to come when those who were not even born when he lived will be comforted by his story and his fight for others who will come after him.

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Rob Burrow should have been knighted. It is not too late to award him that honour after death. But the real honour we can give him is to learn from his strength,his resilience and remember that in the darkest of times he brought light into the lives of others like him. And that love of life, love of family and friends and love of others will never die.

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