The story behind the powerful Rob Burrow picture that moved a nation

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-Credit: (Image: PA)

It was a picture that captured the hearts of a nation.The moment Kevin Sinfield kissed his friend and former rugby teammate Rob Burrow as he carried him over a finish line.

The image was taken as Rugby league legend Sinfield completed the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon in May last year after pushing his great friend for 26.2 miles.

Just a couple of metres before the end, an emotional Sinfield lifted Burrow, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in late 2019, out of his specially adapted wheelchair and the pair completed the course together in front of a cheering crowd at Headingley Stadium.

READ MORE: Tributes paid to rugby league and MND fundraising hero Rob Burrow who has died

Speaking after the marathon, Sinfield said the race was not only about raising money for MND charities but ‘celebrating friendship’.

“To raise money for the MND Association and the Leeds Hospitals Charity is really important, but this is also about a celebration of friendship,” he said.

The marathon was the city’s first in 20 years after event organisers were inspired by Sinfield’s previous running challenges.

In late 2020, Sinfeld ran seven marathons in seven days, raising £2.7million. He raised a further sum in excess of £1m in November 2021 with a 101-mile run inside 24 hours from his new club Leicester Tigers to Headingley, while his Ultra 7 in 7 Challenge the following November, seven back-to-back ultra-marathons, generated more than £1.4m.

Sinfield and Burrows then completed the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon in 2023 before Sinfield then went on to run seven ultra-marathons in seven different cities in as many days in December.

Today Burrow’s former club Leeds Rhinos announced the 41 year old had sadly died after a four and a half year battle with Motor Neurone Disease and calling their former scrum-half ‘a true inspiration’. He is survived by his wife Lindsey and children Macy, Maya and Jackson.

Burrow and Sinfield together helped to raise more than £13 million for MND charities. Leeds plans to recognise the achievements of the pair with a statue to be erected at Headingley where the duo crossed the finish line together.

Burrow became an inspiration to many for the way he reacted to his diagnosis back in 2019. He was just 37 and had three children under the age of eight with wife Lindsey when he made the announcement on December 19, 2019 that he had MND.

Sports fans, and those in rugby league especially, responded by raising over £160,000 for Burrow’s battle in the space of four days.

In mid-January a sell-out crowd of almost 20,000 turned up at Headingley for a joint benefit match with former team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan and there was hardly a dry eye in the ground when Burrow went on to play the final five minutes.

Robert Burrow with his wife Lindsey after he was made an MBE by the Princess Royal -Credit:Getty Images
Robert Burrow with his wife Lindsey after he was made an MBE by the Princess Royal -Credit:Getty Images

The overwhelming sense of pity the fans may have felt, though, was the last thing Burrow wanted as he bravely faced the media within hours of breaking the awful news.

“The worst thing for me is people pitying me,” he said. “I know it’s going to come, but I want to be as normal as ever.

“While I am able-bodied and feel fit and strong and healthy, I want to do normal things and not be treated any differently.”

Burrow’s first task was to travel to Scotland to meet Doddie Weir, another larger-than-life rugby character who had been diagnosed with MND two-and-a-half years earlier and had set the bar high in his efforts to raise awareness of the crippling condition.

Burrow, who brushed aside suggestions that his MND was a direct result of the proliferation of head knocks, displayed his trademark courtesy and courage as he put himself through a gruelling round of interviews, even apologising for the state of his voice which was already showing the effects of the disease.

Barrie McDermott, a former team-mate, said at the time: “The thing with Rob is that the stature he had as a player is certainly not the same as his stature as a person.

“He’s fought adversity all his career with his size and came out of the other side with so many trophies.”

By the summer of 2020, Burrow had lost his voice and began to type answers to questions with his eye-gaze machine, which used his voice from old rugby interviews.

By January 2021, he had lost the use of his hands and arms and began using a wheelchair after his legs became very weak, but his resolve to never give in grew ever stronger.

As well as his fundraising with Sinfield, an emotional BBC documentary, ‘Rob Burrow – My Year with MND’, helped achieve his aim of raising awareness of the disease.

Burrow’s strength in adversity was documented in his autobiography ‘Too Many Reasons To Live’, which won second prize in the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, and he was awarded an MBE in the 2021 New Year Honours, just days after being inducted into the Leeds Hall of Fame. He was made a CBE, along with Sinfield, for services to MND awareness in the 2024 New Year Honours.

Burrow received the Helen Rollason Award at the 2022 BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony, where he paid tribute to his “MND hero” Weir, who had died the previous month.

He was chief guest at the 2020 Challenge Cup final at Wembley in which Leeds beat Salford, which he was unable to attend due to the pandemic, but he was at Old Trafford in October 2021 to present the Harry Sunderland Trophy to the Grand Final man of the match, an award he had himself won on two occasions.

His trophy haul also includes no fewer than eight Grand Final triumphs, while the one-club man twice won the Challenge Cup and could boast three World Club Challenges with his beloved Rhinos.

He is fifth on Leeds’ all-time list of appearance-makers, having contributed 1,103 points from 492 matches from 2001 up to his retirement in 2017, and won 15 England caps as well as making five appearances for Great Britain.