Rob Burrow: who is rugby player with MND - how did he complete Leeds marathon with Kevin Sinfield?

BBC Two documentary Rob Burrow: Living with MND follows the former Leeds Rhinos and England rugby league player after his motor neurone disease diagnosis

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Rob Burrow is a former Leeds Rhinos rugby player who in 2019 announced his diagnosis with motor neurone disease (MND), a degenerative disease affecting the brain and nerves. He had retired from rugby in 2017 and since his diagnosis has helped to raise awareness of the condition.

He appeared on the BBC Two documentary, Living with MND, which explored the impact of the condition on himself and his family, in October 2022. Burrow is one of several former rugby players including former Scottish rugby union player Doddie Weir, and the late South African scrum half Joost van der Westhuizen, to have developed the condition.

In an emotional moment on Sunday (14 May), Rob and his friend rugby coach and former Rhinos player Kevin Sinfield, completed the Leeds Marathon, with Sinfield carrying his pal over the finish line. Footage of the pair completing the marathon has been shared widely on social media as many viewers found the event incredibly touching.

Who is Rob Burrow?

Rob Burrow announced in December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone diseaseRob Burrow announced in December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease
Rob Burrow announced in December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease

Rob Burrow, 40, is a former professional rugby league player who spent his entire career at Leeds Rhinos, making more than 400 appearances. Burrow also represented England on 15 occasions between 2003 and 2013. Weighing less than 11 stone, and standing at 5ft 5, he was known as ‘the smallest player in the Super League’ but went on to have a successful career with the Rhinos and entered the club’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

In December 2019, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.  He was awarded an MBE at the 2021 New Years Honours for services to Rugby League and the Motor Neurone Disease community.

What is Motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a rare degenerative condition that affects the brain and nerves, causing weakness in the body. The life expectancy for roughly half those of those with MND is three years from the onset of symptoms, although some people live with the condition for decades.

There is no cure for MND but there are a variety of treatments available which help to manage the symptoms. The condition eventually leads to death as the condition causes weakness of the mussels required to keep a person alive.

Symptoms of MND include weakness in the legs, slurred speech, a weak grip, and weight loss. The cause of MND is currently unknown, but recent research has suggested a link between playing rugby and developing the condition. A University of Glasgow study found that ex-rugby players had a 15-times higher risk of being diagnosed with MND.

Rob Burrow played for Leeds Rhinos for his entire professional careerRob Burrow played for Leeds Rhinos for his entire professional career
Rob Burrow played for Leeds Rhinos for his entire professional career

Did Rob Burrow take part in the 2023 Leeds Marathon

Rob and his former Leeds Rhinos teammate completed the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon, a special event started this year in honour of the rugby star, together on 14 May. More than 12,000 runners took part in the race, which was the first marathon in Leeds in 20 years.

Sinfield pushed Burrow around the 26.2 mile circular course which started and ended at Headingley Stadium, home of the Leeds Rhinos. A specially adapted wheelchair was used for the event. As Sinfield and Burrow approached the finish line, Sinfield stopped to pick his friend up and carry Rob over the finish line.

The marathon raised money for The Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Appeal as well as other causes, and Sinfield has raised around £8 million so far through a series of extreme running events.

What is Rob Burrow: Living with MND about?

Living with MND explores the impact of Burrow’s MND diagnosis in 2019 on himself and his family. Having lived with the condition for several years, Burron now requires 24 hour care which is normally undertaken by his family. The documentary follows the relationship between Burrow and his wife Lindsey and their children Macy, Maya, and Jackson, as well as Burrows parents, as they are all impacted by his condition.

It sees how Lindsey cares for her husband, taking him for a swim, and putting him to bed at the end of the day. NHS staff are also shown providing care and discussing his treatment. Meanwhile, Kevin Sinfield, Burrow’s former teammate and a close friend, rallies support in Leeds, the home of the Rhinos, who Burrow played for for 16 years, as well as in the wider rugby community.

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