Ex-Gloucester lock Slater vows to carry the fight against MND

Former Gloucester lock Ed Slater vows to carry the fight against MND after being honoured with the Blyth Spirit Award by the Rugby Players’ Association…. with ex-England Sevens star Abi Burton also collecting award

  • Slater retired from professional rugby about being diagnosed with MND
  • It is coming up to a year since Slater, just 34, received his devastating diagnosis 
  • He follows in footsteps of Jonah Lomu and Kevin Sinfield in winning the award

‘When you’re sitting on your arse it’s easy to pick up!’ says Ed Slater, laughing loudly down the phone after answering Mail Sport’s call in double-quick time.

‘I was just watching Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone – great film!’

Former Leicester and Gloucester lock Slater finds comfort in his home life where the company of his wife Jo and their three young children helps distract him from his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. It is coming up to a year since Slater, just 34, received his devastating diagnosis.

But, like his fellow rugby MND warriors in the late Doddie Weir and Rob Burrow, Slater is determined to use his situation as a force for good. He has his down days, as he readily admits.

But the support of the sport which gave him so much drives Slater on to try and help others.

Ed Slater retired from professional rugby about being diagnosed with motor neurone disease

Slater follows in footsteps of Jonah Lomu and Kevin Sinfield in winning the Blyth Spirit Award

On Wednesday night, he was honoured with the Blyth Spirit Award at a glittering dinner hosted by the Rugby Players’ Association. Slater was a co-recipient of the award which recognises courage in the face of adversity alongside former England Sevens star Abi Burton.

‘I’m sharing the award with Abi who has also gone through a hell of a lot,’ Slater says. ‘Recognition of the challenges you’re going through and the challenges you have ahead of you is important to me and my family because we’ve got to live it day-to-day.

‘When you go through something like this you never expect it. There are all sorts of emotions in terms of fear and worry for your family and their future. Your own future is uncertain.

‘There are so many different things that consume you but to get the support I’ve had from the rugby community has given me a lot of strength and reason to push the message for MND.

‘I’ve been blown away by it. I’ve also met lots of other people suffering with MND who don’t have a platform so I’m speaking just as much for them as I am for myself.’

Slater’s life changed forever in July 2022 when he was told he was suffering with MND – a fatal illness which affects the body’s nervous system and for which there is no cure.

He immediately retired from professional rugby to begin a fight of his own.

‘I’m just constantly adapting,’ Slater says. ‘There is no doubt my body has deteriorated quite a bit from when I was diagnosed. Every day or week brings a different kind of challenge.

‘There are definitely down periods where you feel like things have progressed quite quickly. Then there are moments where it feels like it has plateaued and in those moments you feel like you can manage, cope and adapt. You find different ways of doing things. I’ve got tremendous family around me. My wife is incredible.

Slater and Abi Burton have been recognised for courage in the face of adversity 

‘But when you have those down moments it feels like you’re spiralling out of control. They’re very difficult to manage. They’re a real test of your mental strength rather than your physical strength. I take it day by day and I find that allows me to manage as best as possible.

‘It’s incredibly personal when you’re in those moments because you can feel very much on your own. I certainly look to the people around me. My wife is No 1 and being at home with her and the kids is very much my comfortable place. Beyond that I have a strong group of friends.

‘The difficulty with this is having been a rugby player and quite physically strong and fit, it’s quite difficult getting used to the fact you now can’t do things which previously seemed so blatantly easy. You can feel sometimes a little bit embarrassed or self-conscious by the flaws or disabilities you now have. Credit to my friends. They don’t bat an eyelid.

‘They just help me and treat me like normal which makes things easier for me to adjust to where I’m at.

‘I’ve got friends who lift my mood by not even hesitating if I need help getting out of a chair, if I fall over, or if I need help holding a drink to my mouth.’

Slater follows in the footsteps of Jonah Lomu, Matt Hampson, Henry Fraser, Weir and Kevin Sinfield in winning the Blyth Spirit Award. Sinfield, now England defence coach, is the man leading the fight against MND. Sinfield’s best friend and former Leeds Rhinos team-mate Burrow has been struck down by the disease.

Last weekend, Sinfield wheeled Burrow round a marathon in Leeds and carried him over the finishing line. It was one of the most powerful sporting images you will ever see.

Sinfield has raised millions to try and find a cure for MND.

‘I’ve got to know Kev a lot since my MND diagnosis and I’m completely in awe of everything he does alongside Rob and how he’s taken the torch for this,’ Slater says.

‘I messaged them both after the weekend just to say what an inspiration they both are. That image is so powerful. Kev has been by Rob’s side as a team-mate and a friend for a large part of Rob’s life. You really see the best in people when others need help. You’ve seen that in Kev. It was quite an emotional moment for me to see that but also very inspiring.

‘They’re two fantastic men. The amount of awareness Kev has raised for MND has helped with the progress. And that’s before you mention Doddie who was a massive catalyst for change.

‘He and Kev have brought it into the public domain. I’m nowhere near any of those guys but hopefully I can add my stamp to this horrible disease.

Kevin Sinfield, 42, carried Rob Burrow, 40, across the finish line at Leeds marathon on Sunday

‘If it was my decision I’d give Kev a knighthood based purely on the fact he represents the best in a human being. He’s truly the most selfless person I can think of. I think that kind of behaviour and attitude should be recognised and promoted in the world we live in today.

‘Hopefully the awareness and fundraising can one day lead to a cure. We’ve had the health minister Steve Barclay talking about MND. There’s been £50million from the government.

‘More and more people are aware of it and that’s important.’

Ed Slater is the co-winner of the Blyth Spirit Award at this year’s Eterlast RPA Awards

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