Huddersfield Director of Rugby Gareth Lewis will attempt to complete a 144-mile bike ride in two days to raise awareness and funds for the Darby Rimmer Foundation after the father of two of his players was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
In recent weeks, Huddersfield wingers Kian and Finlay Stewart have been playing with smiles on their faces.
The brothers, aged 23 and 20, have helped themselves to a combined total of 15 tries this term, and the pair also grabbed the headlines by scoring all five tries [Kian four and Finlay one] in last month’s victory over Rotherham Titans.
The siblings are enjoying their rugby in National Two North – with Huddersfield winning seven of their last nine games – and staying positive is something they remind themselves of on a regular basis.
This is because last year, their father, Marcus, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. For his two sons, the news left them heartbroken: “At the time, it was very fresh so we were still going through that initial sort of shock and of course, it was emotional,” Kian tells National League Rugby.
“Me, my brother and my Dad are like three best friends. He lives in Bristol and we will see him every other week. He has a house up here [in Huddersfield] so he comes up. Whenever he is up, we spend a lot of time together, go out for a few beers and he loves to watch me and Finlay play. To have him travel up so far pretty much every week just to watch us play, it is brilliant and it gives us that extra gear.
“It is always nice seeing any family member watch, but especially with my Dad and how he is at the moment, it is even better. He is being really positive and carrying things on as normal. That kind of attitude helps me and my little brother, to be honest.”
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While he is a regular at Lockwood Park, Stewart Snr is more synonymous with the footballing world. The 50-year-old made over 100 appearances for Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Sunderland but he is arguably best remembered for his exploits at Ipswich Town where his 19 goals in the 2000-01 Premier League season saw them finish in fifth place and qualify for European competition.
In an interview last month, Stewart described his symptoms as “good” with the only visible signs of his degenerative condition ‘a weak left hand and a weak left arm.’
“He has always been our role model,” Kian continues. “He will keep us going in tough times. We know how difficult it was when we heard the news about my Dad so it is nice to see him still smiling and doing his thing.
“Dad’s supported us with whatever choices me and Finlay have made. There would be a few [parents] that wouldn’t be very happy with sons or daughters moving onto a different sport from what they had played! Honestly though, he and my Mum [Vicky] have just been so supportive and I think it is why we are so strong.”
That family bond is encapsulated under the “Team Stewart” banner with Kian’s stepmum, Louise, driving fundraising efforts which have already seen them raise over £100,000 for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.
Next month, Kian and Finlay will be running the Manchester marathon whilst on May 13th, a charity football game at Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium is set to take place.
And a week later, it will be rugby’s turn to show their support.
Huddersfield Director of Rugby Gareth Lewis has set up a ‘Coast to Coast‘ 144-mile bike ride from Workington in Cumbria to Tynemouth all aid of the Darby Rimmer Foundation and inspired by Marcus’ story.
The Field boss will attempt the challenge over two days alongside representatives from all 14 National Two North clubs as well as current referee and ex-Sale FC player Jack Moorhouse.
“We have got events going on like the charity football game and another bike ride where we’re supposed to be cycling to the football clubs which my Dad played for, but the fact Gaz, off his own back, has decided to do one himself and organise it is brilliant,” Kian says.
Director of Rugby Gaz Lewis will attempt to complete the Classic Coast to Coast 144 mile cycle over two days Workington to Tynemouth to raise awareness and funds for the Darby Rimmer foundation.
— Huddersfield RUFC (@Huddersfield_RU) February 8, 2023
“It is also brilliant the fact that it just shows how good the rugby community is. Week in and week out, everyone is basically beating each other up in National Two North! After the game, everyone has a pint with each other, has a chat and we are doing this off everyone’s own back really so it is very nice to see.”
“I have got to know Marcus over the last couple of years on a personal level,” Lewis adds. “He has been a big supporter of ours with his boys playing on the wings for us and obviously, it is heartbreaking to see something like MND affect both Marcus and his family.
“I think anything we can do to support, the family welcome with open arms. It is Louise who is driving these events so a lot of my communication has been through Louise. She has been a big advocate of all the things we are doing. I think it is very much a coming together and it is great that the rugby community comes together and people are doing what they can.”
Kian says he and his brother have been stunned by the support they have received from the rugby family since their Dad publicly announced his MND diagnosis in September.
Around that time, the National Two North season had just kicked off and before their Round Two match against Otley, Kian was left overwhelmed: “It [the support] has been nothing that the family expected. It has gone above and beyond really.
“My Dad has had loads of support from within football, but I am surprised by how much me and my brother have had as well.
“The support at Huddersfield has meant a lot but we played against Otley in one of the first games of the season when my Dad’s condition was in the news and one of the players, I think captain Adam Malthouse, before the game came up to me and my little brother and said; ‘we are all behind you’ which was pretty touching. We obviously really appreciate it.
“As I said before, we are treating things as normal which is how we should be and we shouldn’t be dwelling on things but it was nice to hear that from someone I don’t really know because I was still going through that initial shock. That is the rugby community again, isn’t it?”
Rugby – and sport in general – is continuing the fight against MND. The work of the late Doddie Weir, the superhuman efforts of England defence coach Kevin Sinfield alongside his ex-Leeds Rhinos teammate and current MND fighter Rob Burrow, and the support for former Gloucester and Leicester lock Ed Slater are standout examples of this.
“I have very much been inspired by Kevin Sinfield and the things that he has done over the last few years which have been incredible but you see the Darby Rimmer Foundation and the things that are going on there and the way the Stewarts are supporting that charity, I thought I have always wanted to do something helpful and this bike ride hopefully will do that,” Lewis says.
A special shirt for a special game 🍒
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 8, 2023
“There are some very famous faces within sport who are fighting against MND but also there are many people who aren’t as high profile who have been impacted by MND. It is all about trying to do our bit to find a cure for this dreadful disease and hopefully we can shed a bit of positivity and awareness to hopefully help find a cure for it in the future.”
Kian knows gruelling challenges such as cycling 144 miles over two days or running a marathon pale into insignificance when discussing the effects of MND, but it is unsurprising to learn that he is approaching everything – including May’s bike ride – with a smile on his face.
“I want to join in with it as much as I can” he adds. “I’ve told Gaz I will be doing it!”
“I think Kian and Finn might need stabilisers those two! They are only little lads aren’t they?” laughs Lewis.
“I think even my old man said he is considering doing it because he can still walk and he is a bit of a cyclist,” continues Kian. “I will have to start learning because it is a bit difficult road biking!
“Cycling with Dad, that would probably be a dream come true and doing that event for Darby Rimmer. I realise that we are quite lucky to be where we are right now so it is important to think about that.
“Like I said before, he is like our role model. We are all staying positive so once we finish the cycle, that will just add to that I think. We will keep getting the message out there as much as we can.”
To support Gareth and the ‘Coast to Coast’ bike, you can donate HERE. All proceeds will be going to the Darby Rimmer Foundation.