KEVIN Sinfield has more than two million reasons to be cheerful after a phenomenal fundraising effort.
The Saddleworth-based rugby league legend put himself through one last challenge after a career of overcoming obstacles – all in the name of big pal Rob Burrow.
And the reaction of drivers he does not even know when he was out on training runs in the area rammed home just how good a cause he has completed seven marathons in seven days for.
It also smashed all targets by raising more than £2.4 million and counting.The former Leeds Rhinos star, now their director of rugby, originally hoped to raise £77,777 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association – with the aim of doing each marathon inside four hours.
As he and his support team gathered in freezing – actually below freezing – conditions outside The Farrars Arms in Grasscroft, he stood at about £48,000.
By the time he had completed half of his first marathon, he had smashed his original aim and was over £79,000.
Kevin’s quest brought national media attention as live interviews were conducted while cars whizzed by, some beeping their horns in support.Behind the scenes, members of his support team were hopping around in an attempt to keep warm while the man himself wore a coat underneath the orange vest he wore with Burrow’s number seven on the back.
Although when it came to running, the coat was removed.
Two marathons were local to the Grasscroft-based 40-year-old, taking in Grasscroft, Mossley, Greenfield, Uppermill, Diggle and Delph.
Three more were around the greater Oldham area and two in the city where he is a hero.
At 7am on Tuesday, December 1 Sinfield set off on his attempt and he revealed the local help in the form of Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams and support from the public.
Sinfield, also revealed some of the training and how remembering the good times alongside Burrow helped him through.
He said: “I researched the training and I needed to do three marathons in three days, which I did at the end of October.
“But I’ve been out and about on my runs and even had drivers beep me and say they are following Rob’s story. I don’t even know them.
“The three in three was tough. Much of it was mentally getting my head right. Seven in seven was a lot more difficult but there was a reason why I was doing it.
“Whereas the three in three was just getting out there for the sake of running, just to make myself tired and understand what I’ll feel like. That was probably the best thing I did.
“The team around me was a huge part of it but obviously there was Rob. I’ve built a friendship with Doddie Weir, met a number of MND sufferers and seen a number of stories.
“I wasn’t dwelling on that, though. I was celebrating the good times and memories I’ve had with Rob.
“When it gets a bit dark and I started to question, ‘What on earth am I doing?’ I tried to remember some of the good times and funny moments that Rob brought us.
“He’s been brilliant. He’s been so overwhelmed by the support from everybody. He’s funny but he can be shy and doesn’t crave the limelight.
“I was Rob’s captain for 13 years and you spend all those years trying to do what’s best for the team.
“Just because you’ve finished playing it doesn’t mean it stops there.“When someone in that group falls on hard times and needs a hand, I’ll be at the forefront with the rest who absolutely think the world of him.”
Sinfield’s original plan was to begin in Scotland, with fellow MND sufferer and former Scotland rugby union international Weir starting and Burrow and former footballer Stephen Darby also getting involved, but Covid-19 restrictions scuppered that.
Then it was Leeds and the whole of Greater Manchester, including some rugby league grounds, but that altered again.
He had a team around him, a couple of runners and a couple on bikes, while a lot of planning and permissions were needed – everyone involved was also tested the Friday before the start.
To the point where Mrs Abrahams and Leeds Council’s boss Tom Riordan and leader Cllr Judith Blake worked to get clearance.
And Saddleworth’s Parliamentary representative Mrs Abrahams said: “What Kevin is doing for his friend Rob Burrow, and in terms of raising awareness around the work of the MND Association, is amazing and he has my full support.
“I know Kevin and his team have worked hard to make sure that the marathons are Covid safe so, if you want to support his efforts, please make an online donation.”
The training had pretty much been done but he joked, ‘We’ve tried to avoid hills,’ which is impossible in Saddleworth, but as he added, ‘Some are steeper than others.’
He also quipped that he was glad Burrow’s squad number was seven and not a lot higher.
“We had a bit of a joke about it,” Sinfield, who completed a marathon around Saddleworth in March, added. “Seven in seven is all around Rob’s squad number and I’m glad he didn’t have somewhere in the 20s.
“I have made that point to him. He keeps telling me he’d do stuff for me, I know he would but when I saw him recently I did say, ‘Would you have done 13 in 13 for me?’
“He didn’t answer but he did start laughing.”
Sinfield has also been joined by fellow former team-mates Jamie Peacock, Barrie McDermott, Keith Senior, Kylie Leuluai, Danny McGuire, Brett Delaney, Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey in fundraising.
In fact, Peacock joined him for one lap of the Leeds course on Saturday, December 5, with current Leeds captain Luke Gale accompanying him on the other.
His efforts and the reaction have now led to calls for the man known to Rhinos fans a ‘Sir’ to become a real knight of the realm.