LEEDS RHINOS legend Rob Burrow says he will tackle motor neurone disease just like he did his illustrious rugby league career – head on and without fear.
The former England and Great Britain star announced yesterday he has been diagnosed with the debilitating condition that affects how nerves in the brain and spinal cord function.
There is no cure and, for many sufferers, life expectancy is just three years from diagnosis.
Burrow, 37, won eight Super League titles, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups during his brilliant career.
On the battle he now faces, the smallest player in Super League history – standing just five feet five inches tall – said: “It is a challenge and I am not going to lie down. I didn’t do it in rugby and I’m not going to start now. I am feeling really good; I’m the best out of my family at feeling good about it. It’s not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world is your kids getting poorly.
“You would take anything for your family. It is me and I am happy with that. Hopefully I can fight it and if miracles do happen – there’s some trials coming out in March and I’ll try and get on them – who knows?
“I will fight it all the way. A bit like that scrap; MND is the big guy and I’m the little guy, swinging, but not reaching. I will certainly swing.”
MND is the big guy and I’m the little guy, swinging, but not reaching. I will certainly swing.Rob Burrow
The ‘scrap’ Burrow refers to is when he took on Hull FC’s towering prop Epalahame Lauaki – all six foot three of him – in a BBC televised Challenge Cup tie in 2010.
The scrum-half/hooker retired in 2017 having played almost 500 games for Rhinos and is now the club’s reserve team coach. He largely remained in good spirits yesterday as he explained how his diagnosis was confirmed just a week ago. Burrow had had problems with his speech slurring and initially thought it was a side-effect of medication he was taking for an old shoulder injury.
But when that was altered and his speech was still not right, he was advised by Rhinos’ doctor to see a neurologist.
“I had an MRI and that showed all clear,” explained Burrow.
“From Thursday to the following Thursday I was good, nothing had shown up. No news is good news so they say. I thought I’d turn up on Thursday and they’d give me some medication.
“I might have a viral infection or something. I was sat in the waiting room, drinking free coffee and in good spirits. I was expecting to celebrate after.
“He asked me how I was feeling and said the MRI was fine, but on the nerve conduction test three out of four came back positive for motor neurone.
“The fact I thought I had the all-clear, then I found out I wasn’t…”
Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield drove Burrow up to Carlisle to meet Doddie Weir on Wednesday, the former Scotland and British Lions lock who has had MND since 2016.
Just days earlier, Weir had given an emotional speech at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show having received the Helen Rollason Award after launching a charity that aids research into the disease and improve the lives of those with MND.
Burrow added: “Listening to Doddie makes you think ‘wow’.
“I will be inundated with people trying to help me, but as Doddie says, what would the postman do, or the guy who works at a shop? They might not get diagnosed for months, and I got it in three weeks because I was lucky that I had people who could get me private and do that.
“I’m more than happy to get on board with Doddie and maybe start something up down here where people can be helped.
“Awareness is massive. In 10 years’ time they might heal somebody and find a cure so I’m massively keen to help. Life changes now and it’ll never be the same, but if I can do what I can with awareness and funds I’m keen to.”
Burrow says he will carry on coaching as long as he can and added: “The worst thing for me is people pitying me.
“I know it’s going to come, but I want to be as normal as ever.”
Former team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial against Bradford on Sunday January 12 will now be a joint fundraiser for both. A page has been set up to support Burrow’s treatment and his family.: www.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/robburrow.
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