Leeds Rhinos legends Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield inspire cancer survivor's 290-mile ride for Motor Neurone Disease Association
When cancer survivor Stephen Brown saddles up for a 290-mile bike ride later this year in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, he will not just be drawing inspiration from Leeds Rhinos legends Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield.
He will also be thinking of the tremendous dignity and courage shown by the patients with motor neurone disease (MND) who he has had the privilege to meet during his work as a healthcare assistant at Torbay Hospital in Devon.
"I looked after one gentleman and he was a bit younger than me," said Stephen, 58. "He had a special computer which he used to communicate with others. He never moaned. He had been an active runner, fit, and suddenly whallop, this had happened within a year.
"I got quite friendly with the family. He just made me smile and made my job a little better. Even with what he was going through, he always had a smile on his face and would say good morning."
Originally from Leeds and with family still in the city, Stephen has followed closely the story of Burrow and the incredible work he has done to raise awareness of MND since going public with his diagnosis in 2019.
And he was rooting for Burrow's old teammate Sinfield in December last year when he took on seven marathons in seven days to raise money in support of his friend and the work done by MNDA to help other families affected by the incurable condition and fund research into potential treatments.
Stephen said: "It was absolutely incredible. Sinfield and the lads, I take my hat off to them.
"I know I've gone through cancer, but these guys need that help. The research has got to be there and the Government have got to step up on this."
His own health issues have given him further cause to reflect on life and encouraged him to make the most of his time.
"I've been in and out of the hospital with the cancer," he said. "You think you're only on this planet once."
Stephen had been on holiday with his wife and son in Italy two years ago when he started to experience agonising pains, initially thought to be due to kidney stones.
But a CT scan would reveal a tumour that required urgent surgery and the removal of a quarter of his kidney.
Recalling the day the news of his diagnosis was delivered, he said: "A consultant came and sat on my bed and said, 'I'm sorry Stephen. You've got cancer.'
"I just looked at my wife and said, 'I'm going to die, aren't I?' The consultant said, 'No, you've got 60 people behind you'."
Full of praise for the colleagues who supported him and the medical team who treated him, Stephen is now back to work and focusing on his training.
He is no stranger to taking action for good causes, having done a lot of charitable work on the Simpson ward where he works and through helping to organise Northern Soul nights.
But the cycle ride from Dawlish to Leeds, currently planned for May 14, will be among his most ambitious fundraising efforts to date.
"I do like to do my little bit," he said. "It just cheers me up."
Stephen plans to visit the Rhinos' homeground in Headingley at the end of his journey, which he hopes to complete in five days and will be setting up a fundraising page later in the year.
He added: "I'm really buzzing for this now. I just hope this lockdown eases in the next month so I can get back out training."
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