FORMER Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield provided one of the highlights of the recent World Cup Final when he entered Old Trafford at half-time of the game between Australia and Samoa, completing the final leg of his seven ultra-marathons to a standing ovation from the 67,502 spectators.
It was the scene of many of Sinfield’s greatest triumphs as a player, having captained Leeds Rhinos from 2003 until his retirement in 2015 and leading the club to seven Grand Final victories at the Theatre of Dreams.
But to arrive as he did and the acclamation he received just over a week ago was arguably an even greater achievement.
“Finishing the latest challenge was a relief but I was so overwhelmed by the support. It was a wonderful week,” said Sinfield.
“After my last challenge I had a bit of trouble with my knee. I had some work done and didn’t run for two months, but remarkably when I ran the ultra-marathons, I didn’t feel them at all.
“I was aware that if I got injured, the whole thing could have come crashing down but thankfully we got there.
“Walking into the stadium was very surreal. But, as on my previous visits, I had a wonderful team around me. The support and love for Rob is incredible. It was really important for me to know that he was watching at home on TV.”
After completing his latest challenge, which has raised almost £2.1 million, Sinfield was back at Leicester Tigers, where he is employed as the club’s defence coach, last Tuesday morning, giving him little time to reflect on what he might do next, although he does rule out a potential career in politics, despite the fact that he would clearly have a strong appeal for voters.
“I opened my laptop on Sunday morning and I was straight back to work. If I don’t put everything into that, then I’m letting the lads down. The response when I got back in on Tuesday morning was brilliant,” he added.
“Over the next few weeks I will really reflect on what we’ve done over the last few weeks.
“I’m not sure politics is for me. If I could train to be an A & E doctor in three years, I would love to do that because I love to help people, although I couldn’t spend seven years doing it. But my next route will be trying to find ways of helping people.
“The thing that gives me the biggest satisfaction is providing people with hope.
“Sport gives us a vehicle for continuing to raise funds to counter this awful disease. It’s amazing how many people want to come out and support us and that’s because of the profile that sportspeople have. Whether we like it or not, sportspeople have something that makes others want to be around them and donate.”
Sinfield does admit to one slight disappointment linked to his run from Edinburgh to Manchester, however.
“I was massively disappointed that the England men and women were not there,” he said.
“We were all slightly deflated when England were knocked out of the men’s and women’s tournaments. We were all hoping to arrive at Old Trafford to see a stadium that was full of white shirts. But the team took great delight in England Wheelchair winning.
Meanwhile Sinfield admits he is disappointed that the £50 million promised by the government for MND research hasn’t yet been paid.
“Rob and co have done brilliant work with government to secure £50 million in funding but why hasn’t that funding been handed over yet?
“I understand that with anything like this, there is an element of red tape but then I look at some of the other ways they have spent money and I don’t think they have been scrutinised in the same way this has.
“That’s what I don’t understand disappoints me because there is people dying and families are being ravaged and being left.
“I can’t see any valid reason why this money is being held back – this is important that this comes across and the scientists work together and we move the dial forward.
“The £50 million is for research and there is nothing in there that helps families and all those other things that people don’t think of.”
“I wouldn’t say anger, I’ve got some disappointment because they (MND sufferers) have been lost and left for so long.
“It’s something I think about regularly; this has been a huge part of my life for a couple of years as has spending time with Rob.
“My concern is if that campaign hadn’t started a couple of years ago, where would we be?”
At the weekend the death was announced, after a six-year battle against MND, of the former Scottish rugby union international Doddie Weir, who Sinfield had forged a close relationship with in recent years.
“Today is a deeply sad day for everyone who knew Doddie but especially his family, who are at the forefront of our thoughts,” said Sinfield in a statement.
“Doddie was a giant as a player but his campaigning following his MND diagnosis made him a colossus. When Bryan Redpath first put me in touch with Doddie to speak to Rob Burrow following Rob’s own diagnosis, he immediately said yes without hesitation. The sight of 5’4” Rob and 6’6” Doddie was something that will live with all of us and probably bonded the duo with the great humour they shared. Doddie was able to give Rob the greatest gift of hope that night. He has been like a big brother to all of us since that day.
“I know, on behalf of the whole Ultra 7 in 7 team, it was our ultimate honour that Doddie was at Murrayfield just two weeks ago when we set off on our fundraising challenge. With his trademark smile, he insisted that he wanted to be there with his new pink trainers on! The fact that a proportion of the money raised from the Ultra 7 in 7 will go to the Foundation set up by Doddie has particular poignancy as we look to continue his legacy on in the years ahead.
“I am honoured to have been able to call Doddie my friend and I know his spirit lives on in all of us who knew him. He will always be a champion.”