It’s not just the athletic achievement of Kevin Sinfield’s remarkable running challenge that captured the country’s hearts, but the story of his friendship with Rob Burrow.
The former Leeds captain completed his seventh marathon in consecutive days, all in under four hours, to raise over £1.5million and rising for motor neurone disease. Aided by a support team that included fellow ex-Rhinos, Sinfield took to the streets of Saddleworth and Leeds in rain, wind and even snow, cheered on by dog walkers and van drivers as his feat of endurance gathered momentum.
The cause was one that took Sinfield’s endeavours well beyond the parameters of rugby league and into a national spotlight. His old team-mate Burrow’s battle with the terminal disease has touched everybody that has seen and read about it since last December’s heart-breaking diagnosis.
Now, Sinfield’s desire to raise funds and awareness of the devastating condition has brought to the fore the bond between the pair and all of the Leeds side that lifted eight Super League titles between 2004 and 2017.
“I was Rob’s captain for 13 years and you spend all those years trying to do what’s best for the team,” Sinfield said before he set off. “Just because you’ve finished playing it doesn’t mean it stops there.”
Sinfield’s initial target was to raise £77,777 to mark Burrow’s iconic Rhinos shirt number. That figure was passed on day one, and on Monday, as he neared the end of the final leg, it clicked past £1million, aided by the support of high profile figures gripped by this story of brotherhood. Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, cricketer Ben Stokes and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas were among a host of sports people publicly in awe of Sinfield’s efforts.
The man himself remained typically humble throughout the whole event. “In its simplest terms, we’ve done seven runs – that’s all we’ve done,” he said.
“The support has been incredible – Rob has felt it and he’s been completely overwhelmed by it. He’s been in our thoughts through all seven and I wanted to do him proud. We’ve been really proud to wear the vest both with Rob’s number seven on the back but also the Motor Neurone Disease Association colours on it – understanding the work they do for so many families across the UK.
“This amount of money will make a huge difference and change a lot of things hopefully. The awareness is crucial – we need to find a cure don’t we? It’s such a cruel, cruel disease.”
On day five, when Sinfield moved his runs to Leeds, among those on the streets to cheer him on was Burrow and his family. Sinfield admitted he had to take a moment to gather himself at the finish line and not let the emotion of everything overcome him in front of them.
As he headed out for his final run on Monday – which he finished in a time of three hours and 41 minutes – the well wishers included two other sporting MND sufferers in Doddie Weir and Stephen Darby. But the final word of this tale of brotherhood can only go to Burrow, who now has to communicate using an app on his phone.
He told Sinfield: “You continue to inspire me and make me want to never give in. Like you, I will take one step at a time and maybe there isn’t a finish line for me but I will keep on going.
“I remember back to when I played alongside you, I thought you’d never let your team down and I’m sure you’re not going to start now. Everyone needs a friend like Kev.”