Rob Burrow, rugby star and inspirational fundraiser, dies of motor neurone disease at age 41


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

Together with his wife Lindsey and friend and former teammate Kevin Sinfield, Burrow raised nearly £20 million ($25.5 million) to fight MND, including more than £6 million ($7.6 million) to build the Rob Burrow Centre for MND in Leeds, northern England, which aims to provide a better quality of life for people with the degenerative disease. Illness.

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

There is currently no cure for MND. The disease causes muscles to weaken over time, affecting the sufferer's ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.

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

“Rob Burrow had a big 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.

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Kevin Sinfield carries Rob Burrow across the finish line of the marathon.

Sinfield's efforts became the epitome of the power of friendship against all odds as he took 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 field, Burrow has compiled a host of highlights, including sweeping runs, tries seemingly conjured out of thin air and the unmistakable sight of his diminutive frame outwitting much larger defenders with dazzling footwork.

He made 492 appearances for Leeds Rhinos, including 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 player 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, which gave him two years to live, Burrow became known outside the rugby league community when he and his family decided to go public with his illness, highlight its impact and raise awareness and funds.

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Rob Burrow, his wife Lindsey (who ran the half marathon), his daughters Macy and Maya, and Kevin Sinfield, who ran the full marathon, all pose for a photo after the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon.

Burrow and his wife have released two documentaries, My Year with MND and Living with MND, which explore everyday life with the devastating disease and its impact on their young family.

Lindsey also told her own story in the documentary “Who Cares for Our Carers?” and in the memoir “Take Care”, which examined 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 evident as his condition worsened, highlighted by the moment in May 2023 when Sinfield carried his friend across the finish line of the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon after pushing him through the city streets in a wheelchair for more than four hours.

Of Burrow's death on Sunday, Sinfield said: “This was the day I hoped would never come.”

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

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

A picture book inspired by their friendship will be published 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 paid their respects to Burrow.

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Members of the public pay tribute and look at flowers and messages left at Headingley Stadium in Leeds.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, are currently conducting a national election campaign but both expressed their sadness at Burrows' death.

Starmer wrote on X: “Rob leaves an incredible legacy with his work to raise awareness and advocate for people with Motor Neurone Disease. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Meanwhile, Sunak described Burrow as “an inspiration to anyone who met him or heard his incredible story”, adding that he “leaves behind an amazing legacy”.

Burrow leaves behind his wife Lindsey and their three children.