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Rob Burrow, Rugby Star and A.L.S. Campaigner, Dies at 41

Rob Burrow, Rugby Star and A.L.S. Campaigner, Dies at 41
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Sports|Rob Burrow, Rugby Star and A.L.S. Campaigner, Dies at 41



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The “Mighty Atom” enjoyed a glittering professional career in Britain before gaining more acclaim for his charity efforts after a diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

A man in a white and red rugby kit holding a rugby ball dives forward on a pitch.
Rob Burrow during a rugby match in 2008. He spent his 17-year professional career with the Leeds Rhinos and retired in 2017. Two years later, he was diagnosed with a neurological disease.Credit…Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rob Burrow, a rugby standout who overcame his diminutive stature with fleetness and ferocity to become an eight-time champion of Britain’s Super League and who was later hailed for raising awareness of motor neuron disease after being diagnosed with it in 2019, died on Sunday. He was 41.

His death — from M.N.D., a group of neurological disorders that includes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — was announced by the Leeds Rhinos, the British club with which he spent his entire 17-year professional career. It did not say where he died.

Doubted at every turn for his small stature — he was about 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds — Burrow nevertheless became a star, earning nicknames like Mighty Atom and Pocket Rocket in the British tabloids.

He was sapped of his physical gifts, however, when he was diagnosed with his neurological disorder at 37, just two years after his retirement in 2017.

Despite enduring an incurable illness in which muscles waste away, making even eating and breathing an ordeal, Burrow banded with his close friend and former teammate Kevin Sinfield to raise millions for research on M.N.D. and to support people with it, including establishing a care center in Leeds, in northern England.

In a much-publicized fund-raising challenge last December, Sinfield ran seven marathons in seven days in seven cities, each with a 27th mile tacked on to inspire people to go the “extra mile” for friends in need.

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