Ex-Eagle Lawless on Nick Smith Foundation and Offload
Sheffield Eagles’ Challenge Cup winning hooker Johnny Lawless has been doing vital work within the sport, as part of Rugby League Cares ‘Offload’ scheme.
Highlighting to men of all ages the importance of speaking up about their mental health, while keeping physically fit, Lawless has been a part of Offload’s sessions alongside Eagles Assistant Coach Keith Senior.
As well as this, Lawless is a trustee for the Nick Smith Foundation - named in honour of the former Eagles player and Siddal RL stalwart who sadly passed away from motor neurone disease in December 2017.
Firstly speaking about the Foundation, Lawless said: “I got involved as a trustee when Nick passed away,”
“I did a bit of fundraising when I found out he had MND to raise some money for the family.
“Unfortunately, it was quick from him getting the diagnosis to passing away - it was 101 days.
“I got asked to be a trustee for the charity and I thought that if I could be a help and not a hindrance then I’d love to do it.
“I got on board, more for the rugby side as Nick was part of the Siddal amateur club who have been heavily involved.
“Nick didn’t play many pro games but came back to Siddal, played over 400 times for the club and was paramount to all the success they had in the ten years he was there.
“He was a fantastic bloke and to be asked to be a part of the charity was an honour for me and still is.”
One of the fundraising missions the Foundation is doing involves completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
In May, a core team led by Siddal Head Coach Martin Scrimshaw, will try to conquer the three peaks in as many days - 75 miles in 72 hours.
“Martin Scrimshaw had the idea about this and I must point out I won’t be completing the challenge, I’ll be more of an emergency driver than anything else!” Lawless laughed.
“Martin was a teammate of Nick’s for years so he’s set a fitting challenge really.
“They have been training hard for this and I’m sure they’ll all be up for it.
“When it’s for such a good cause too, I can see them all succeeding.”
Lawless also paid tribute to Rob Burrow and Doddie Weir, who are going through their own battles with motor neurone disease.
Burrow’s teammate and current Leeds Rhinos Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield helped to put MND awareness in the spotlight with his challenge of seven marathons in seven days.
The former Eagles hooker said: “It is a horrible disease and it does need more research to go into it,”
“Rob is doing a tremendous job, as well as Doddie Weir, in getting the message out there about what it is and what we can do.
“One thing about Rob is that people have become more aware about it through him and now want to do these fundraisers. It needs that money to be put into it.
“All the fundraisers and challenges make it worthwhile as the money goes to the right places and more awareness is being raised as it’s more common than what you think.”
Lawless has been an advocate for mental health through the Rugby League Cares charity.
Having admitted to battling his own demons after the loss of two close friends, he now plays a key role in getting the word out to all ages courtesy of RL Cares’ ‘Offload’ project.
“I have struggled with my mental health in the past and have lost two of my closest friends, who were at Siddal, around ten years ago.
“That got me invested within this and made me look at my own mental health, getting educated around it which I have done in recent years.
“I was asked to be an ambassador for Rugby League Cares which gave me a lot of pride, to go to different clubs and reduce the stigma regarding mental health.
“The charity Rugby League Cares helped me when I needed it quite a few years ago and that got me on the path to where I am now.
“I went to Featherstone to do an Offload session and we had people there from ages of 23 to 70.
“We do talk about mental health but we do like to make it fun as well, it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Going to different community clubs and speaking to the kids, every session is different and we all take something out of it.
“Every question takes you down a different road.
“It’s something I really enjoy.”
To donate to the Nick Smith Foundation and their Triple Peak Challenge, please click here.
By Dan Fowler