KEVIN Sinfield has 2.5 million reasons to look around thinking, ‘What the heck happened?’
But his epic marathon efforts are not the end of it, especially after the main thing he gave – hope.
Grasscroft-based Sinfield and his team – which included Saddleworth Rangers’ Under-15s coach Darrel Rogers, raised an astonishing £2.5 million for former Leeds Rhinos team-mate Rob Burrow and the Motor Neurone Disease Association by completing seven in seven days – all in under four hours.
He ran five separate marathons around Saddleworth, starting and finishing at Grasscroft’s Farrars Arms and taking in Greenfield, Uppermill, Diggle, Delph and Dobcross.
Timing was impeccable as he passed the £1m mark as he passed Saddleworth School where he was once head boy and where his sons are pupils.
His achievement was recognised at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Now proposals of what to do next are flowing but one effect will last longer than any – something for Burrow’s family and those of other patients can hold on to.
Sinfield, who insists the only issue is a sore Achilles he has experienced anyway, which he puts down to the amount of running, said of the lack of understanding: “It’s horrific. It’s almost like, ‘Good luck.’
“There’s a drug out there but that’s 30 years old.
“We’ve provided a bit of hope to a lot of people. Every afternoon, I spoke with someone living with MND, a family member or someone who had lost a loved one.
“That gave us a real appreciation of what the disease does. I’ve seen what it can do first hand over the last 11 months with Rob but some of the stories out there are so cruel and it spurred us on.
“They’ve waited for a catalyst to really push and get some awareness out there. They’re so made up because they feel there’s a glimmer of hope.
“With more awareness, funding and research, there’s more chance of a cure – and we’ve seen with Covid-19 if you throw enough money at something, we’ll find answers.
“And from the contact I’ve had with Rob’s family and others, they are so made up just because they feel there’s a glimmer of hope.
“We’ve provided a bit of hope to a lot of people. Because it’s been so close to us and Rob’s a great friend, I’ve seen how cruel it is.
“Then you understand the stats of 50 per cent of patients don’t make two years, you try and put yourself in someone with MND’s shoes and it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I was thinking of doing something and was told Rob’s sponsor had a chunk of money he’d like to throw in. I said, ‘Would he sponsor a challenge?’ to which the reply was, ‘It would have to be worth his while.’
“So we ended up with seven in seven. My group of mates said, ‘Yeah.’ They needed no convincing, the thing that took more was putting the four hours on it. I think then they thought I was mad.
“Now the conversations are, ‘How do we generate more?’
“Talk of what’s next started on the Monday, the day we finished. There are a couple of ideas, nothing marathon-based but I think we can do another biggie around Rob.
“This disease needs a cure and the small, little bit we’ve done did that. We’ve seen these families who suddenly felt like they had that little bit of hope – that was the best thing to take from it. The MND Association with their support and funding is crucial, it keeps them going.
“The reaction probably won’t sink in for a couple of weeks. All the time I can be out at the shop or doing something and people would come up to me congratulating me and saying well done.”
The original target of £77,777 was passed by the time Sinfield completed half of his first marathon, despite concerns they would make it when they set off on £48,000.
From there it grew to the astonishing sum with more than 100,000 people donating.
Sinfield’s training continues, as do the quips from Burrow, who is living with the debilitating condition.
After juggling running with being Rhinos’ director of rugby and family responsibilities, also conducted a Zoom session with the Rangers’ Under-15s while riding on his bike to keep his legs moving, he added: “We exchange messages most days and he’s still sending me funny replies.
“We exchange messages most days, two or three a day as I’m fully aware of how important time is to him and his kids.
“He’s always been funny. We always had a pact, we’d have a laugh at each other’s expense but we we’d never actively go searching for each other with banter.
“He’s still got his humour, that big smile and twinkle in his eyes, he’s still absolutely full of life.
“We message about many things. He’s my mate, it’s like anyone messaging a friend.”
The 7am starts, all the sevens related to Burrow’s squad number, were dark but Sinfield’s mindset was not.
Although number six in Leeds was the hardest, despite talking shop while doing it with former Leeds team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan. A lot of that was down to seeing Burrow 24 hours previously.
Sinfield, who was brought down to earth by taking part in a Rugby Football League regulatory meeting, admitted: “Rob was there, so emotionally that was a big day. It was the second day we travelled to Leeds, which meant a 4.30am start after no sleep.
“It was number six and we were in touching distance. All that and it was pitch black and chucking it down.
“Seeing Rob affected all of us. I got home and my wife Jayne said, ‘You look absolutely shattered.’
“But the 7 in 7 never got as dark as day two of the three in three training run. I was in a pretty dark place but when I did it, it gave me the belief I’ve got this.
“It was the same route that I did around Saddleworth and even when it snowed, it didn’t bother me too much – Uppermill looked very festive.”
Sinfield has formed a bond with former Scotland rugby union international Doddie Weir, who has MND and whose attitude inspires him.
The 40-year-old, who travelled up to Scotland with Burrow to meet Weir after his diagnosis in December 2019, said: “There’s not many people I’ve come across that are as positive.
“We’ve become really good friends and he’s that positive he’s been good for me. It rubs off on you and makes you want to be a better person.
“The day before we started, he rang me and said, ‘I’m going to be with you but not run seven marathons. I’m going to do seven cans of Guinness a day.’ I think he managed day one!”
• Fundraising for Kevin Sinfield’s 7 in 7 continues. You can donate online at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sinfield-7-in-7
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