Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A Tribute to my Friend
A friend of mine who had motor neuron disease died on Sunday night. Jarrod Cunningham was a bright and talent Hawkes Bay rugby star and had battled long and hard with this disease.
I met Jarrod when I was just a little girl and my babysitter was a proper cheerleader for the Havelock North Rugby Clubs and I was a junior cheerleader. He was so good with us and me and the other junior cheerleaders and player saw him as a hero and also like a big brother.
He was a 1990s fullback and holder of the record for the most points for Hawke's Bay in first class rugby passed-away only hours after going through the coming week's fitness and exercise programme with physio Mark Foote.
On Saturday Jarrod insisted on going ahead with an invitation to officially opening the refurbished Havelock North Rugby clubrooms, during which the club's Hawke's Bay premiership-leading side paid an emotional tribute with the Ngati Kahungunu haka Tika Tonu.
He also attended a fundraiser which had been put on for him at the Cinema Gold in Havelock North.
Jarrod played rugby over in England and it while away that he learned he had the disease that would bring him from the strong rugby player he was to the weak but never not determined to fight man he passed away as.
In New Zealand he scored 998 points in 77 games for Hawke's Bay between 1990 and 1998, and 173 for the hybrid Central Vikings in the Hawke's Bay-Manawatu NPC merger, playing 11 games despite the presence in the squad in the first season of All Black Christian Cullen.
He was an All Black triallist, a Maori All Black, played for the the Wellington Hurricanes and the Auckland Blues in the Super 12, and finished his playing days in England with London Irish.
At the time his illness was diagnosed, Jarrod's manager, said loyalty was the hallmark of his career. It was known he had turned down lucrative offers aimed at luring him away from Hawke's Bay and Havelock North, which had been his only club in New Zealand.
In England, London Irish director of rugby Conor O'Shea said at the time that the fact Cunningham had played with the disease in 2001 showed the player's mettle.
It was in England on February 22, 2003, that he married English girlfriend Carrie Gustafson, and with her he returned to New Zealand, where the Jarrod Cunningham Charitable Trust was set up to help the star and others stricken by motor neurone, a muscle-wasting disease.
A charity match featuring numerous All Blacks and Hawke's Bay and Havelock North teammates was played in Napier in June that year.
Jarrod was one of the kindest people I knew, he was always supportive up and coming sport people and would spend hours talking with younger players about their techniques and their futures in the game.
When I was home recently I saw Jarrod and we chatted for awhile, it was always hard to see him knowing how big and strong he had once been and to now see him confined to a chair and struggling to speak. He had deteriorated alot since I had last seen him.
Jarrod, I hope you are now in peace, no doubt hanging out with all previous rugby greats up in the best field and trust you to have stuck around to hear who got named in the All Blacks squad for the World Cup.
You will be sorely missed, you were more than a great rugby player, but a great person.