Leeds uni students get their kits off in tribute to rugby star

James Burke pictured when he played rugby league for Jamaica  during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
James Burke pictured when he played rugby league for Jamaica during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
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UNIVERSITY of Leeds students shed their clothes for a naked calendar to support a mental health foundation launched in honour of a 21-year-old student who took his own life.

Talented rugby league player and law student James Burke, who suffered from anxiety and depression, died at his home in Hunslet in April 2017.

University of Leeds students who bared all  the naked calendar

University of Leeds students who bared all the naked calendar

His devastated mother Sharon Burke has launched the James Burke Foundation to raise awareness of the signs of depression and break the stigma that accompanies mental health and suicide.

University of Leeds criminology student Ailie Rennie, said more than 70 men and women from six Leeds Gryphons sports teams at the university agreed to strip for the calendar.

Ailie, president of Leeds University Union Women’s Association Football Club, said: “Our calendar not only aims to raise money for this cause, but to also address the issues which mental health in sport can cause, working to promote a positive mind set, body image and team mentality.”

James’s mother Sharon said he played rugby league for Hunslet Warriors as a boy and went on to represent the University of Leeds.

Some of the University of Leeds students who appear in  the naked calendar

Some of the University of Leeds students who appear in the naked calendar

He was eligible to play for Jamaica as a heritage player as his late grandfather Daniel Burke was a first generation Jamaican, who came Hunslet during the Second World War when he was an RAF mechanic.

James played in Jamaica’s rugby league team in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and scored a try in their clash with South Africa.

Miss Burke said: “James was outgoing and he was the life and soul of the party. He was kind and funny. He was a lovely boy, everybody loved him.

“We set up the James Burke Foundation in April. There are huge gaps in provision for mental health services for people to access in Leeds.

“Let’s break down this stigma. People are ashamed to admit they have got depression or anxiety so let’s get rid of that.”

“For me, mental health is a whole community issue, we need to educate whole communities.”

She added: “I don’t have the words to express how wonderful the students have been.

“They have supported everything the foundation does and they have supported me and held me up.

“They are just wonderful young people. They really have stepped up to the mark. James would be proud of them.”

The calendars, priced at £10 each, are available via the Leeds University Union Women’s Association Football Club Facebook page at www.facebook.com/luuwafc/

Or people can pay ‘not to see‘ the calendar and make donations at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ballstomentalhealth

For more information on the James Burke Foundation, go to thejamesburkefoundation.com

Mothers tragic words about son

TRAGIC Leeds student James Burke’s mother Sharon has written an emotional and powerful blog about her son’s suicide.

Miss Burke attempts to describe the pain she felt when she found James hanged in her bedroom last April in the first of a planned series of monthly blogs.

She wrote: “I can’t begin to explain the tsunami of emotions I felt, standing, then kneeling next to James that Sunday morning in my bedroom. A room I now hate, in a house I despise, the place we used to call home was now his tomb.

“I was confused, the pain I felt was raw, like being thrown into a furnace and staying conscious whilst you were being slowly burned alive.

“I wanted my boy back, still do, wanted it all to be a lie, wanted everything to be boring again, but of course that could never be.

“I felt confused and the instant loneliness I felt was crippling, like I could barely breathe, if only I had know what was coming I could have stayed asleep so that I wouldn’t have had to face this.

Miss Burke added in the blog: “I wanted to hold onto him forever, tried to, but they took him anyway. “

She added in the blog: “I cried and cried until I ached, still do but it makes no difference and I immediately set about trying to protect my boy like I always had.

“Spending days sitting with him at the chapel of rest, making sure his hair, his pride and joy, was as perfect as it could be, difficult as they performed an autopsy on him which upset me even more.

“I don’t suppose it mattered, as he was dead, but it mattered to me, his big strong chest, sewn up like a hessian sack. I wanted to do everything for him myself.”