Sunday, 10 November 2013

Farewell Steve Prescott – a real hero

When anyone dies at 39, the first thought is that it so young; far too young.

But for Steve Prescott, who passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning, it was almost a miracle of longevity.

Steve had played Rugby League as a fullback for St Helens, Hull FC and Wakefield, winning trophies at Saints, playing for Lancashire in the Origin games, and England, Ireland and GB at international level.

I didn’t personally get to meet him, but I saw him play – not least in that momentous 1996 Challenge Cup Final victory against Bradford, when he scored two tries for Saints, and I have a very fond memory of standing behind the sticks at the old, undeveloped Stoop, on a freezing night, as he bantered with the crowd while the action was at the other end of the field.

But his career was ended by injury in 2004, after a broken knee cap the year before.

As if that were not enough of a blow, in September 2006, he was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer and given just weeks to live.

But instead of feeling sorry for himself or hiding away, he took on a series of challenges to raise money and awareness – challenges that would have tested the healthiest person, never mind someone facing what he was.

He set up a foundation, which has raised more than half a million pounds so far, and personally ran marathons and walked many more miles, up and down hill and dale.

In April 2012, along with former GB captain Paul Sculthorpe, he ran the Paris Marathon – and then cycled from the French capital to the coast, rowed the English Channel in atrocious conditions and then ran the London Marathon a day later, finishing in four hours and 23 minutes.

In doing so, Steve inspired many others to get involved as well as to donate.

And in 2010, he was made an MBE for services to the sport he loved and to charity.

When he passed away on Saturday, he hadn’t so much ‘succumbed’ to cancer, as spent seven years giving it a bloody nose.

He was able to see his two daughters grow, and left them a remarkable legacy.

And his fight will outlast his physical body – from the medical knowledge gained from his own fight, to the benefits for medical care and science that his fundraising achieved.

With that in mind, it was entirely apt on Saturday that the crowds at both the England v Fiji and the Ireland v Australia World Cup games applauded.

Words like ‘heroic’ and ‘legend’ are overused, but not in this case.

We should, then, celebrate the quite extraordinary achievements of Steve Prescott, and take inspiration from his attitude toward life – and death.

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