Four-and-a-half years ago, Doddie Weir’s life changed forever when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Since then, he has been an inspiration to us all, raising millions for research into MND for which, at present, there is no known cure.
When his diagnosis was first made public, he was on his way to New Zealand with his family to watch his beloved British and Irish Lions take on the mighty All Blacks.
Starting with the opening match of the tour against Japan at BT Murrayfield next Saturday, he will be cheering on the Lions again, this time from his home in the Scottish Borders.
Doddie Weir will be cheering on the Lions from home in their first game at Murrayfield
Warren Gatland’s men then go on to face world champions South Africa in three Tests after that game but the courageous Scot who continues to work tirelessly to raise funds for his foundation doesn’t see taking on the Springboks in their own backyard as a ‘mission impossible’.
Weir, in a message to the Lions squad — which includes eight Scots — said in an interview with BT Sport: ‘This is a Jim Telfer “Everest” moment. Boys, this is your chance. You have to have belief in what you’re doing.
‘I think when you have belief, you’re going to conquer the world. I say that because, in my mind, we will have a cure or a stoppage to MND.
‘There is no mission impossible — it’s about the amount of work you put in. Teamwork also brings results. You boys can do it and I will be supporting you all the way.’
Weir has raised millions for research into motor neuron disease after announcing he had been diagnosed with the illness in 2017
There are eight Scottish players in the Lions squad including Rory Sutherland (pictured)
The former second row, who played for the Lions on their 1997 winning tour to South Africa, believes Scotland merits having such a relatively large contingent compared to previous years and thinks their inclusion will have a positive knock-on effect for the national side in years to come.
A prime example of how Scotland players come back energised and full of confidence from Lions tours came after the 1989 winning series in Australia. The next year, Scotland — who had nine players on that tour Down Under — won the 1990 Grand Slam.
‘I think it’s quite amazing the number of Scots involved,’ said Weir. ‘It’s because they’ve had a great year. The team have played well, they have gelled well together, they’ve been very competitive away from home. To have eight players and two coaches on the tour, I think is fantastic.
‘Looking further down the line, I believe that it will benefit the Scotland team no end.’
On a personal level, Weir said he felt fortunate to still be here as the average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with MND is between one and three years.
He continued: ‘Throughout my rugby career I always expected the worst. I never thought I would be playing in the next game, so if I was dropped I expected it, but if I was selected, it was good news.
‘So when the professor told me I had MND, I pretty much expected that. I said: “Right, we’ve got this. We’ll try to fight it and sort it out”.
‘It was like my injury on the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, which meant my tour was over. I was a wee bit surprised by the news from Dr James Robson, but you take a sharp intake of breath and think: “Let’s get on and look forward, instead of looking back”. That’s what I’ve done ever since. When I was diagnosed with MND we were told that it would be unlikely I would walk into the professor’s surgery in a year’s time.
‘From being a professional sportsman, from being relatively active before the diagnosis, that was certainly a very worrying situation for me. It shows how difficult the disease is when the professor is unsure what effects it may have on the individual.
‘I think we have seen that the issue can be very fast acting. I’m very fortunate and very lucky that, four-and-a-half years in, I’m still able to speak, still able to walk a little bit, still able to have a couple of drinks and a laugh as well.
‘I feel very fortunate on that because the average life expectancy of someone with MND is between one and three years, which is horrific.’
Weir said working to raise funds for research into MND through his foundation had a positive effect on him since he was diagnosed.
‘It was decided we would put a foundation together and that has pretty much changed my life,’ added the former lock forward.
The former second row doesn’t see taking on the Springboks in their own backyard as a ‘mission impossible’
Weir continues to raise funds for MND to help people with the illness get a better understanding of the disesae
‘The most frustrating thing about MND is that there’s no drug.
‘Say, if you got cancer, for example, nowadays you would have a good chance of living.
‘Everyone who has MND goes home and looks on the computer to self-help themselves, find whatever they think might help. I think that’s outrageous.
‘My crusade is to help people with MND understand the issue. All we want is a drug or something to prolong our lives.
‘If it’s a stoppage, then so be it. If it’s a cure, then even better. The foundation has helped us spend nearly £7million to find a cure and help people who have MND. That is down to the generosity of the public, businesses and individuals — I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for the generosity of everyone who has helped.’
In June 2017, Doddie Weir announced he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Four years on, BT Sport caught up with the former Scotland international to see how his life had changed. To watch the full video head to the official BT Sport YouTube channel.