Rob Burrow says he has no regrets about playing rugby league and would not discourage his children from following in his footsteps despite his battle with motor neurone disease.
The former Leeds and Great Britain scrum-half is now confined to a wheelchair and unable to perform basic functions without help as motor neurone disease takes an increasing hold of his body.
Former rugby players are 15 times more likely to suffer from MND than the average person according to a new study, but Burrow, who was diagnosed with the disease in December 2019, is not entirely convinced by the findings.
“It was such small sample so I cannot really comment,” said Burrow.
“More research needs to be done.”
Burrow, who won eight Super League titles during his glittering career with the Rhinos, insists he would not change anything from his past and would be happy for children Macy (10), Maya (7) and Jackson (3) to take up rugby.
“I’d like my kids to do whatever sports they desire,” he said with the use of eye-recognition technology.
“There is no evidence that anything causes MND. I think I was so unlucky that I got the disease.
“The positives outweigh the negatives. I would not be the person I am today without the experience I got from playing rugby league, the friendships and bonds and life experiences, travelling the world.”
Rob and his wife Lindsey, who cares for her husband full-time despite having to look after their three young children and holding down a job as a physiotherapist, are taking part in a documentary to highlight what it is like to live with motor neurone disease, with Burrow maintaining he is “not giving in, right until my last breath” as he has “too many reasons to live”.
“I’m a prisoner in my own body, that’s the way MND gets you. The lights are on but no one’s home,” says Burrow.
Lindsey also opens up about the difficulties the family experience and contemplates a future without her childhood sweetheart.
“I’m out of my comfort zone, but at the end of the day it’s not about us,” she said.
“The reason for doing this is to raise awareness about how brutal and cruel and devastating MND is and that it doesn’t just affect the person, it affects the whole family.
“Me doing an interview is nothing compared to what Rob and many other sufferers go through, it puts it into perspective and, if we can help one other person or raise more awareness and more funds for research, it can only be a good thing.
“It’s really tough doing those interviews, but I don’t want people to be sad.
“Yes, it is a sad story, but there is a lot of hope in there as well, seeing the kids and just how much they love life.”
Sinfield: Rugby league safer than ever due to protocols
Burrow’s former team-mate and close friend Kevin Sinfield says rugby league’s evolving protocols have made the sport “safer than ever” despite ongoing concerns over the long-term impact of head collisions.
Sinfield’s comments came hours before a group of over 75 former players were set to launch a legal claim against the Rugby Football League (RFL), alleging negligence in failing to take “reasonable action” to protect against irreversible neurological conditions.
The former Leeds Rhinos star is due to embark on his latest challenge to raise money for research into motor neurone disease and will run seven consecutive ultra-marathons, starting in Edinburgh and ending at the Rugby League World Cup final in Manchester.
He told BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs: “I think with the advances medically in sport and how they’re governed, players are looked after better than they have ever been.
“Governing bodies have worked really hard to take away as many head collisions as they can, and then how these head collisions are monitored and looked after, the protocols that are in place now are better.
“I’d say it’s safer now than it’s ever been to play sport.
“However, there will continue to be head collisions. If we took all contact away from rugby and it became something very different to what it looks like today, we’d have a lot of people stop playing.”