Rob Burrow hopes his MBE in the New Year Honours list will give comfort to fellow motor neurone disease sufferers and reassure them that their plight will not be ignored.
The 38-year-old former Leeds Rhinos player was diagnosed with the degenerative and life-limiting condition in 2019. The MBE is in recognition of his services to his sport but also respects how he has raised awareness of MND during the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “It is truly humbling to be awarded an MBE and I would like to thank everyone who has made this possible.
“2020 has taught us all to appreciate the gifts we have and it is my honour and privilege to accept this award on behalf of all the MND community.
“I hope it gives people hope that we are not ignored and the drive for more research and support to end MND will not stop.
“I would like to thank my team-mates, coaches and opponents throughout my playing career. They shaped me into the man I am.
“The way the rugby league community has come together over the last 12 months to support me and my family speaks volumes about how special our sport is.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family. I know they have always been proud of me. This MBE is for them and I am looking forward to making another special memory when I am able to receive the award.”
Burrow’s former team-mate Kevin Sinfield has helped his friend’s campaign to raise funds and awareness by completing seven marathons in seven days – with the total raised now over GBP 2.6million.
The disease has already robbed Burrow of the ability to speak without a machine and forced him into a wheelchair, but he continues to work in support of the cause and Sinfield could not be prouder of what his friend has achieved.
The Leeds director of rugby said: “I’m absolutely delighted for him, for (his wife) Lindsey, for the kids, for his mum and dad too.
“His playing career speaks for itself, he was just a wonderful player and an absolute champion, but then off the field he’s been a true friend and a great team-mate and I think what he has done in the last 12 months in fighting like he has and inspiring like he has, he absolutely deserves (the honour).
“This just keeps MND at the forefront of people’s minds and it keeps Rob Burrow at the forefront of people’s minds. His work won’t stop. He’s been unbelievable these last 12 months in particular and I’ve no doubt that will continue.
“He’s done a wonderful job, and I think any chance you get where you can provide some hope to other people and support is brilliant and he just keeps doing that every single minute.”
Burrow’s height – just five feet four inches – did not prove any obstacle to success in the most physical of sports, and he enjoyed a glittering playing career which ended in 2017.
The number of marathons Sinfield tackled was in recognition of Burrow’s shirt number – he was known as the ‘Magnificent 7’.
Burrow won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenge trophies and three League Leaders Shields.
Chris James, the director of external affairs at the MND Association, said: “In the year since his diagnosis with MND, Rob’s commitment to rugby league has been mirrored by his commitment to raising awareness of this brutal disease.
“He has inspired so many people by sharing his own journey, just as he did on the pitch. The awareness, funds and support that have been raised as a result will continue to resonate through the MND community and the work that the MND Association does.”