In New York for recreation as well as therapy, the Scottish rugby great sat down to discuss life with engine neurone illness and what hes doing to fight it

In a famous vistum from Living with Lions, the seminal documentary about the 1997 victory in South africans, Doddie Weir is told his tour is over.

” Ah well ,” says the large-hearted lock, his eyes exposing a deeper anguish than his sneer as medical doctors flexes his knee, crushed by some Mpumalanga stormtrooper.” We’ve had a good old-fashioned period of it, eh ?”

Twenty-one years later, in the bar of the Fitzpatrick Manhattan Hotel, at Lexington Avenue and East 57 th, Weir ruefully smiles again.

” It’s been a bit of a nightmare, having MND .”

The king of understatement is now 47. Eighteen times have legislated since the last of his 61 detonators for Scotland. It’s 15 months since he was told he has engine neurone illnes, closing on a year since he broke the news to the world.

Weir Weir in action, for Scotland against Ireland in 1998. Image: Allsport

” I don’t know if you are familiar much about MND ,” he says,” or ALS, as I guess it’s called here in America, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a muscle-wasting disease, so all the muscles in your organization begin to stop function through the neurons stopping firing, so you eventually can’t gait, you can’t promoted, you can’t withdraw, you can’t gobble. You can’t breathe, because your diaphragm stops making. So your whole figure slams down eventually. It’s terminal, at the moment .”

Life expectancy is generally two to five years. Weir was told he’d be wheelchair-bound in one. But here he is, mitts weakened a little bit but still cheerfully steadfast. Afterwards, at the New York Athletic Club, he takes domination of a charity auction. Reveling in hours of schmooze and horseplay, he creates $8,000 for his foundation with a shirt worn in Scotland’s November loss to New Zealand. He hurls in a bottle of special edition whisky- Doddie’s Dram– although he strives to hold it, then sells two more for $2,000 a pop, a seem reiterated where reference is opens the bottles with their owners.

The room is full of laughter, stoked by the cheery monstrou in the” style catastrophe” clothing made of specifically commissioned tartan.

” I’ve been looking over at wee Alex ,” Weir says into the mic, gesturing to where Alex Corbisiero, Lions prop turned US TV emcee, sits in his still-beefy prime.” And I’ve been thinking if I’d cultivated in the gym as hard-handed as he has, I might have longer to live .”

The room catches its sigh. When it expels, the resonate is somewhere between scandalize and a sigh.


Weir still toils his farm in the Borders- he’s boasting a black eye dealt by one of his cows- but he has acquired another cause: survive and find a cure.

” In Scotland there’s only one dose for it ,” he says.” One medicine that came out 22 decades ago. Basically you’ve got a death sentence. So my crusade at the moment is to try to get options for people who have this, so they have a chance. It might be a negligible fortune but at least a better likelihood than they have now .”

This is Weir’s second call to New York in the last few months. The Colorado Clinic has an office in the city and can provide masitinib, an inhibitor stimulant, which the NHS cannot. Weir has spoken intensely on the subject elsewhere. Here, in the bar, he speaks warmly of health clinics and of Brian Kennedy, the former Sale Sharks owner who is funding his expeditions to the Commonwealths for treatment.

He speaks warmly of others, too, from his fellow” rugby legend” and old-fashioned English foe Jerry Guscott tying his collar in the elevator down-” he was the first lady I discovered so I asked him”- to the legions that have dined, cycled, marched or only talked in support of My Name’ 5 Doddie, the research organization containing his old shirt number.

” The assistance is just unbelievable. Newcastle have been heavily involved”- last weekend’s game against Northampton at St James’ Park was held in part to promotion an old-fashioned association soldier, more than 30,000 encountering Weir stroll the coincide ball out.” We had a Doddie Gump, which was an attempt to follow on from the Ice Bucket Challenge, which Rob Wainwright, my former team-mate, very kindly grouped together.

Weir Weir- in appropriate tartan- and his sons bring out the pellet at St James’ Park last week, before Newcastle beat Northampton. Photograph: Chris Lishman/ Rex/ Shutterstock

” Our large-hearted finale was a walk in Italy which we made perhaps 500 or 600 parties might do: I think there was 5,000 or 6,000 there. It’s just overwhelming, heartwarming and very difficult to explain. I’m just a Borders boy and a little bit of a manner adversity. The charity and the aid … it’s amazing.

He gives me a sharp-witted gaze.” There was somebody who biked up for the Calcutta Cup match- I don’t know if you know but Scotland won that this year, for the first time in 10 years .”

I sway my foreman, Englishly.

” That was the first occasion I wore my Doddie’s tartan suit, it came out for that tournament. No? Don’t remember ?”

The tartan is memorable: blue-blooded and white-hot for Scotland, yellow and black for Melrose, black and white for Newcastle. Still no, though.

” A person cycled 500 miles from Twickenham to Murrayfield in two days, to raise money. That was quite a special day … when Scotland beat England, aye. Still no ?”

He chuckles, eyes my Guinness enviously, takes a mouthful of ocean. Weir has always been a glass-half-full sort of chap. Now, it is about to change, it’s literal.

” Drinking a beer ,” he says,” I can’t regard it too long. So I suck half of it first to acquire the glass a little lighter.

” A chiropractor I go to has been wonderful. An sample of his thinking is, instead of sucking out of a straw because your hands are weak, you’ve got to hoist and booze the beer. You use, you lose. You’re really telling MND you’re no gonna win .”


And hitherto, forbidding some medical breakthrough perhaps helped by My Name’ 5 Doddie, MND will win. Not long before our gather came the end of the most famous client of all, with the deaths among Stephen Hawking at 76, 55 years after diagnosis. Weir experiences Hawking as justification- as evidence- for hope.

He and his wife Kathy have three sons, Angus, Hamish and Ben, all in their teens. They accompanied him on to the pitch at Murrayfield in November before that All Blacks epic, then again at St James’ Park this month. He’s determined to see them germinate. Nonetheless, life has acquired brand-new necessity. Long-held strategy have been move forward. Last year Weir took his family to New Zealand to watch the Lions. The next intent is the World Cup in Japan next year. Two times after that, the Lions in South Africa again. This week, his eldest legislated his driving research-” second occasion, intellect”- and another longed-for daylight was done.

Doddie Weir delivers the accord pellet for Scotland v New Zealand in Edinburgh in November.

Weir has said he does not connects his MND to the jolts and batterings of a top-flight rugby profession. But it has taken participates before. The Auckland and London Irish back Jarrod Cunningham learned he had the disease in 2002 and died 5 years later. The enormous Southern african scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen was diagnosed in 2011. He died last February. Weir is talking to Van der Westhuizen’s foundation” about staging an affair in South africans “.

He chortles, thinking back to that day with the Lions in’ 97.” Perhaps do it in Mpumalanga, yeah … that’d bring back some, well, some reminiscences. I might not say good …

” Joost went through a lot of drugs and one thing or the other and a lot of testing and I’m not really doing that at the moment. There’s a lot of work been done since Joost was about into what’s working and not working. There’s a lot of bandwagon-ing about’ this will work’ or’ this will medicine it’ but it doesn’t work, which can be cruel to the person with MND. So my mob are saying,’ We’ll not do that .'”

A A walk in New York. Photograph: Richard Sexton/ Instagram

Weir is not relying to fortune- as suggested by the excursions to New York for medicine- but he insists more than once “he il be” luck, quoting cases of beings diagnosed one month and dead the next, leaving spouses and young children.

” I wouldn’t say it’s been a wonderful journeying ,” he says.” I possibly knew something was wrong for a year or so before my diagnosis. But in a way, yes, I am luck. They say two to three years is a lifespan with this. And in that time, I’ve never been invited to so many parties .”

His laughter, like mine, is fuelled more by exultation than affliction. And before the five-block stroll to dinner through a breezy Manhattan dusk- he brandishes away all renders of an Uber- there is time for a theoretical turn.

” I never, ever remember I want to be someone else ,” he says.” I’m not that religious but there are certain things that have happened in “peoples lives”. I crashed my gondola 15 decades ago, a real bad crash. But I contemplate Him upstairs took a search and said to Himself:’ I necessitate a rugby player, who am I is going to be? Weir? Ah, you’re not good enough so I’ll just let you smash your automobile and you can live.’

” My brother-in-law, he was 54, he was found on the shower flooring. So I was seeing maybe the big-hearted person craved a shepherd.’ Michael Dun, you’re the one, come upstairs .’ So again, I’m not religious but maybe the big boy has told us:’ Right, you were lucky with your auto crash, move sorting this MND/ ALS out, ascertain what you can do .'”

Doddie Weir’s charitable foundation is myname5doddie. He was in New York with Captain’s Knock, a networking group with a philanthropic focus.


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