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Three courageous sporting heroes facing battle with brutal motor neurone disease

Three sporting heroes spoke movingly about their battle with motor neurone disease yesterday and their hopes for a cure.

Rugby league legend Rob Burrow, former footballer Stephen Darby and ex-Scotland rugby union international Doddie Weir met for the first time since February 2020.

They discussed how the incurable condition had transformed their lives and the challenges their families face.

MND causes muscles to waste away after loss of nerve cells which control movement, speech and breathe. Half of those diagnosed die within three years.

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Sally Nugent meets Doddie Weir, Rob Burrow and Stephen Darby on BBC Breakfast

Doddie, 50, who had a fall in March, said: “You can see within a year how brutal the disease is.

“Last year we were able to walk into the set.

“This year two of us need a bit of help. My arms don’t work and I don’t think Rob’s arms work that well either.”

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Rugby league legend and MBE Rob Burrow
Rugby league legend and MBE Rob Burrow

Doddie has raised millions for MND research and hopes it might slow the disease.

Ex-Liverpool and Bradford defender Stephen, 32, broke down as he told of the tough year all three endured.

He too is campaigning for greater awareness of MND, and more Government help.

Rugby union star Doddie Weir has 61 Scotland caps
Rugby union star Doddie Weir has 61 Scotland caps

Rob, 38, spoke in the BBC Breakfast interview using a voice simulator with the help of wife Lindsey, 38, a physio.

As viewers saw footage of the couple with their three young children, Rob said: “As I sit here with limited use of my legs and arms, I can’t speak, I want people to know I feel as mentally strong as ever.

“I hope to have played a role in finding a cure. I only hope it is in my lifetime.

Former Liverpool and Bradford defender Stephen
Darby
Former Liverpool and Bradford defender Stephen Darby

“But I would be equally pleased if it is not, I hope that I leave a lasting impression on this horrible disease.”

“Uncle” Doddie and “brother” Stephen have checked in on the former Leeds Rhinos star since his 2019 diagnosis. Stephen spoke of the support of his wife, England captain Steph Houghton.

He said: “She has been a rock.

Rob Burrow of Leeds Rhinos in possession in 2015
Rob Burrow of Leeds Rhinos in possession in 2015

Stephen Darby of Liverpool FC poses during a Liverpool FC 2009/2010 season photocall
Stephen Darby of Liverpool FC poses during a Liverpool FC 2009/2010 season photocall

“Seeing how it has affected Rob and Doddie is hard.

“But you’ve got to look at positives, see what you do have, an amazing wife, family, friends, love and happiness.”

Doddie’s message was: “Live life, keep smiling and wake up every day fighting MND.”

Scotland player Doddie Weir in action during a Rugby World Cup Seven's match against Argentina at Murrayfield in 1993
Scotland player Doddie Weir in action during a Rugby World Cup Seven’s match against Argentina at Murrayfield in 1993

Rob, given an MBE for services to rugby league and the 5,000 MND sufferers in the UK, added: “To be a husband and daddy – that reassures me as to why I have too many reasons to live.”

In 2019 a study found eight times the risk of developing MND for those who sustained repeated blows to the head and spine in top level sport.




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