EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Scotland lock draws inspiration from Joost

Cape Town - Former Scotland international Doddie Weir, who received the World Rugby Award for Character in Monaco on Sunday, is a man on a mission.

The 48-year-old, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2017, has released a book titled: My Name’5 Doddie to raise awareness for the condition.

Doddie and his good friend Stewart Weir, who is the co-author, got together and documented his memoirs. The 304-page book charts the former’s trials and tribulations as well as the ups and downs he has experienced in rugby and life. The man who was capped 61 times for his country has faced up to MND with an indomitable spirit and hopes sharing his tale will raise support and funds for others.

“A big reason behind putting pen to paper is the frustration that there is nothing much on the table in terms of treatment for those who suffer from MND,” Weir told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.

“There is one drug that increases your life by three months, but that’s it. In my opinion, it’s quite a poignant story in today’s environment because there have been many medical breakthroughs, but not much has been done for Motor Neurone Disease. I don’t think you can pinpoint rugby as being the cause of MND. However, the annoying thing is that we don’t know for sure because there haven’t been a lot of biomarkers put out in the last 20-odd years. I’m here to try change that focus.”

Weir is making use of his limitless energy and infectious positivity to raise funds for MND research and support, with more than £1 million already raised and committed in the first year of fundraising. Plans are afoot to raise a further £1 million to fight the dreaded disease for which there is currently no cure. MND involves progressive damage to the nerves and ultimately results in muscle wastage.

“The generosity and support from family, friends, the rugby fraternity and the broader public has just been outstanding,” says the gentle giant.

“Wherever I go, people are so willing to help which is lovely to witness, but sometimes also quite hard to take because you want to do things for yourself.”

Weir reveals that the late Joost van der Westhuizen’s brave battle with MND has served as an inspiration to him. He has been in regular contact with the J9 Foundation, who are carrying on Van der Westhuizen’s tireless efforts, and he has his own foundation known as the Doddie5 Foundation.

“I am just trying to continue the work that Joost started,” Weir says.

“Joost was determined to try and find a cure for this horrific disease and very much became a hero of mine. When Joost visited Murrayfield for the Test in 2013, I saw how brave he was in fighting MND. Having been diagnosed in 2011, he wasn’t very well when he came to Scotland, but I was able to share a few words with him.”

Weir came up against Van der Westhuizen in three Test matches at Murrayfield and on each occasion the Springboks proved victorious. Weir says Van der Westhuizen was one of the toughest competitors he ever faced and credits the late Springbok scrumhalf for ending his back-row career.

“On the field, Joost was out of this world. His ability, speed, and awareness was second to none - he truly had it all. I was a big fan, as he was such an inspirational character when he played. In 1994, we were playing against South Africa at Murrayfield and Joost broke down the blindside and scored a try. I got blamed for that five-pointer and never played number eight again,” Weir says with a laugh.

“I also spoke to Joost at times in my best Afrikaans and called him some rude names between the four white lines to try and get under his skin. I remember calling him a groot piesang in one match!”

In spite of the gravity of his situation, it’s evident that Weir’s sense of humour and zest for life remains intact. He cites his busy schedule, positive attitude and drinking red wine for keeping the wolves at bay. Weir is a man who lives life on his own terms and continues to see the glass half full.

“The professor said I wouldn’t walk into his surgery in a year’s time, but I’m still walking, eating, drinking unaided and driving myself. But don’t worry, I’m not drinking and driving at the same time!

“Some people have been dead within two months of being diagnosed and I’m still kicking on after two years. Why that is I don’t know, but maybe the fact that I’ve got a lot going on is good for me.”

Weir is looking forward to the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be hosted in Japan and believes the Springboks will prove strong contenders in spite of only winning 50 percent of their games this year.

“Springbok rugby has traditionally been strong, but all teams have their cycles. It’s good to see the Boks back in the fold. Apart from Scotland, the Boks are one of the strong contenders for the World Cup. The Boks lift their game for the big occasions, but all the main countries will be right up there.”

In terms of leaving a legacy, Weir opines that he would like to be remembered for his enjoyment of life, the game he played for over a decade and for having a good laugh along the way. He says that the motto he chooses to live by is one of “enjoyment with no regrets and always wearing a smile.”

‘My Name’5 DODDIE is a courageous and hugely entertaining celebration of a remarkable life being lived. There has never been anyone quite like Doddie. A giant of the game and a rugby icon, his story is unique, inspirational and charged with a passion for living life to the full. You will laugh, you may cry, but his story is an absolute must-read - rugby fan or not.’ – Courtesy of Black & White Publishing.

The book currently retails online in South Africa and is an ideal Christmas gift.

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