Former rugby league referee from Pontefract vows to continue swim challenge for Leeds Hospitals Charity's Rob Burrow Centre for MND appeal

A former rugby league referee and long-time friend of Rob Burrow has vowed to continue an epic swim challenge to smash a £10,000 target in aid of Leeds Hospitals Charity and their MND Appeal.

By Grace Hammond
Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 4:45 pm
Updated Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 4:52 pm

Dave Merrick, 45, completed a 60-mile challenge swimming a mile-a-day, on Christmas Eve.

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Rob Burrow Centre for MND appeal: Former rugby league referee Dave Merrick's swi...

It represented the distance from Pontefract to Old Trafford, a journey Rob Burrow frequently made during his career at Leeds Rhinos.

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Dave Merrick

Dave has raised a remarkable £9,500 smashing his original target of £7,000 but is now determined to continue until he reaches the £10,000 mark.

Dave said: “I will continue to swim and push my campaign online.

"Rob is an inspiration - his determination and strength on the rugby field reflects who he is in life. He has made a huge difference, raising awareness and funds on such an epic scale.”

Dave, who lives in Pontefract, was a neighbour to Rob Burrow for over a decade.

Dave Merrick

Dave said: “As an avid member of the rugby community, I followed Rob’s stellar career from our amateur club Featherstone Lions through to the Leeds Rhinos.

"It was around 2015 when we worked closely after I had booked to use his villa in Orlando and became good mates.

"His quickness and prowess on the field was a marvel to watch, so it hit me like a ton of bricks when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.”

Dave played professional rugby league himself for Featherstone Rovers and Doncaster, before becoming a referee in 1999, with 12 years in the Rugby League championship.

After both Rob and David retired from their respective careers, they met again playing together in charity games.

Dave's family and friends and his local pub, the Bradley Arms in Featherstone, has supported his challenge.

His employer, a glass bottle maker, Ardagh Glass in Knottingley, where he’s worked for 21 years, donated £1,000 to his campaign.

Other MND fundraisers have joined him on his swims, including Jude de Vos, who lost her son Jody to the disease.

Dave travelled to Wigan to join Martin Clarke, who completed seven half Iron Man’s in seven days last December for the cause, to swim alongside him.

Dave has also been supported by the general manager of Featherstone Rovers, Jac Davies, and rugby league legend Wayne Godwin.

Both pushed the challenge across their social media platforms. Social media support has been as far afield as South America, Australia and Canada.

Dave said: “Without their help, I would not have raised a quarter of what we have.”

Others to join Dave in the pool have been the Super league referee Ben Thaler, radio commentator Matt Horton, and Leeds Hospital manager Dave Goulding.

He was joined by the Burrow family for the last few lengths on Christmas Eve, with Macy, Maya and Jackson swimming alongside.

IN OTHER NEWS: Leeds Bradford Airport 'disappointed' over public inquiry into £150m rebuild plansDave said: “It’s an incredible community. We are all committed to helping to make the new Rob Burrow Centre for MND a reality.

"My challenge was the brainchild of Jason Wilcox, a lifeguard at the Aspire facility in Pontefract Park, he gave me the initial idea and the centre gave it their full backing.”

NHS nurses at the Seacroft hospital in Leeds that currently cares for MND patients have said how desperately needed the new centre is.

Fiona Powell, a neuro physiotherapist, said: “To have somewhere that is actually clinically set up for patients would make so much difference, and make it less stressful for patients and less tiring, because fatigue is a massive problem for MND.”

Fundraisers from across Yorkshire have been running, swimming, hiking, raffling and auctioning to raise money for the Centre. The appeal has so far raised £1.5m.

Esther Wakeman, chief executive officer of the Leeds Hospitals Charity, who works on the appeal, said: “You don’t have to run seven marathons in seven days, fundraisers from all walks of life are backing the £5m appeal. Anyone can take part, from doing cake bakes to charity runs. We’re eternally grateful to David and this special community of supporters.”

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