Friday , June 21 2024

Rob Burrow, rugby league star and inspirational fundraiser, dies from motor neuron disease at age 41

Former rugby league star Rob Burrow, whose quiet strength and relentless campaigning captured the hearts of many Britons after he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND), has died aged 41, his former team Leeds Rhinos announced on Sunday.

Former rugby league star Rob Burrow died aged 41 on Sunday

Alongside his wife, Lindsey, and friend and former teammate Kevin Sinfield, Burrow raised almost £20 million ($25.5 million) to combat MND, including more than £6 million ($7.6 million) to build the Rob Burrow Centre for MND in Leeds, northern England, that would provide a better quality of life for those living with the degenerative disease.

There is currently no cure for MND, which eventually causes muscles to weaken, affecting a person’s ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.

Rob Burrow became a Leeds Rhinos legend during his rugby league career

Prince William, who presented Burrow and Sinfield with their CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) honors in January, paid his own tribute to “a legend of Rugby League,” on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Rob Burrow had a huge heart. He taught us, ‘in a world full of adversity, we must dare to dream.’ Catherine and I send our love to Lindsey, Jackson, Maya and Macy. W,” he said.

Sinfield’s efforts came to epitomize the strength of friendship through adversity as he embarked on a series of increasingly difficult endurance challenges, including completing seven ultramarathons in seven days and running 101 miles in 24 hours, to raise £7 million ($8.9 million) for MND.

On the rugby pitch, Burrow accumulated a highlights reel full of arcing runs, tries seemingly conjured out of nothing and the distinctive sight of his diminutive figure unleashing dazzling footwork to elude far taller defenders.

He made 492 appearances for Leeds Rhinos, 15 for England and five for Great Britain. An integral part of Leeds’ “golden generation,” he won eight Super League Grand Finals – and was named Man of the Match on two of those occasions – two Challenge Cup finals, three World Club Challenge finals and three League Leaders Shields.

Following his MND diagnosis in 2019, when he was given two years to live, Burrow became known outside the rugby league community as he and his family decided to publicize his disease, to show its impact and to raise awareness and money.

Burrow and his wife released two documentaries, “My Year with MND” and “Living with MND,” which highlighted the day-to-day life of the devastating disease, as well as its impact on their young family.

Lindsey told her own story, too, in a documentary “Who Cares for Our Carers?” and the memoir “Take Care” that spotlighted both her own daily life juggling her job as a physiotherapist with caring for her husband, and the work of unpaid carers across the UK.

“I hope Lindsey’s book will inspire people to be more like her. What a world that would be,” Burrow said on X in May.

Burrow’s remarkable bond with his family and Sinfield became more and more evident as his condition deteriorated. This was encapsulated by the moment in May 2023 when Sinfield carried his friend over the finish line of the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon, after pushing him in a wheelchair through the city’s streets for more than four hours.

Burrow’s death on Sunday, Sinfield said it, “was the day that I hoped would never come.”

“The world has lost a great man and a wonderful friend to so so many. You fought so bravely until the end and became a beacon of hope and inspiration, not only for the MND community but for all those who saw and heard your story. You will continue to inspire me every single day,” Sinfield said in a statement shared by Leeds Rhinos.

“I would always say that you were pound for pound the toughest player I ever played alongside, however since your diagnosis, you were the toughest and bravest man I have ever met.”

A picture book inspired by their friendship will be released in July, with proceeds going to charity.

On Sunday evening, flowers, shirts and scarves covered the ground outside Headingley Rugby Stadium, where Leeds Rhinos play, as fans left their tributes to Burrow.

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