Leeds Legend: Rob Burrow
Former Leeds Rhinos scrum-half Rob Burrow has been an inspiration for those living with motor neurone disease since he was diagnosed with the condition himself
Pontefract-born Rob was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2019 and since then he has raised awareness about his condition publicly, while highlighting the challenges it brings.
MND is a degenerative condition that affects how the nerves in the brain and spinal cord function. Although Rob can no longer talk due to his condition, he’s still very much able to inspire others. In fact, the rugby league icon was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list this year, for his charity work helping others with the condition.
When we caught up with proud Yorkshireman Rob via email, he told us how his life has changed since his diagnosis and described feeling ‘shock, panic and depression,’ in the early stages.
Rob won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenge trophies and three League Leaders Shields during his sporting career, and now that fighting spirit is being put into his fundraising efforts.
‘The challenges were quite significant but I have always faced sporting challenges, and this is not so much different when you think about it. People said I was too small to play Rugby League professionally, but I did. People would say I would not last long in Rugby League, but I did. People say MND has no cure. Well let’s see – because I am determined to prove people wrong again.’
Rob’s close friend and Leeds Rhinos Director of Rugby, Kevin Sinfield, raised £2.7million in his ‘7 in 7 Challenge’ (seven marathons in seven days) in support of people impacted by MND.
‘The 7 in 7 Challenge absolutely changed the MND landscape in recent fundraising,’ Rob says. ‘Kevin has always been by my side during my Rugby League career; he was, and still remains, my captain, my inspiration, but most of all my friend. The Leeds Rhinos crowd used to sing “there’s only one Kevin Sinfield” and there really is only one Kevin Sinfield.
‘Kevin’s fundraising efforts have raised millions of pounds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) and research and support for MND sufferers. It means so much to my family and myself in terms of how much we need to thank Kevin; his efforts have inspired so many others to arrange fundraising initiatives – and so many other kind people have rallied to support me and my family. I am truly humbled, but I only hope that Kevin and everyone else know and appreciate that I would do the same for all of them if circumstances were different.’
The MNDA is very close to Rob’s heart and he’s grateful for their support since his diagnosis, which is why he feels it’s so important for him to encourage others to support the association. ‘The MNDA have been fantastic and they offer support in so many ways,’ he tells us. ‘Personal support and also supporting fundraising events, but, perhaps most importantly, supporting research for a cure for MND.’
Rob is determined to continue supporting such research. ‘Going forward (because going forward is where I am definitely going) I want to be involved in many more initiatives to support ongoing and future awareness of others with MND,’ he says. ‘I want other MND sufferers and their families to come to the forefront and join our journey to fund research.’
Rob is one of an estimated 5,000 adults in the UK currently living with MND and, every day, an average of six people are diagnosed with MND, according to the MNDA.