Friday, August 10, 2007

Jarrod Cunningham

I was heavily involved with the All Blacks in 1993. This was through my working with Lion Nathan, and the All Blacks' major sponsor at the time, Steinlager. During that time, I met a young guy from Hawke's Bay who was international class but just couldn’t get through the long line of world-class All Blacks ahead of him. He led Hawke’s Bay to a famous 29-17 win over the British Lions, and then moved across to Britain to play for London Irish. His name is Jarrod Cunningham.

Jarrod died in late July after a long heroic battle against motor neuron disease. He never gave up the fight, despite five years of intense suffering, and was constantly motivating and inspiring others. One of his favorite sayings - “Make sure you turn every mountain into a mole hill".

Four years ago, the Six Nations countries were scouring the world for New Zealanders with ties to them so they could be rushed into their World Cup squads. Remember Grannie Gate in Wales? Well, Jarrod had an English mother and a Scottish grandfather. Both Clive Woodward and Ian McGeechan attempted to convert him to the English and Scottish causes. Many players would have grabbed that opportunity, but Jarrod was a different kind of bloke. He said he could never imagine himself singing another country’s anthem with a New Zealand team on the same pitch.

Jarrod was diagnosed with motor neuron disease when his balance and coordination started to go awry in training sessions. A specialist told him conventional medicine could prolong his life by about 3 months and that was that. Jarrod decided to fight the killer disease without conventional medicine, through personal willpower and determination. He set up the Jarrod Cunningham Charitable Trust which raised close to £100,000 for fellow sufferers, and he was raising funds to the very end. The day before he died he was opening new facilities at his local club in Havelock North. Jarrod Cunningham was an inspirational New Zealand hero.