Playing rugby at a high level for many years and staying in peak fitness, as a result, must make the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis all the more shocking. That was the bombshell that was faced by 24-year-old Emmet Burns. While completing his treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, the UCD prop organised a ten-tonne challenge to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society and St Vincent’s Hospital.
It was symptoms of sleepless nights, extreme fatigue and severe skin irritation that ultimately led to Burn’s diagnosis in May. Playing rugby at an elite level, Burns was no stranger to digging deep in the face of adversity. His chemotherapy started a week after his diagnosis but that didn’t stop him from attending UCD rugby games whenever he could.
Relying on the support of UCD coaches and teammates, Burns continued to focus on developing throughout his treatment. Studying for a masters degree in Food Business Strategy, Burns made sure to look after himself physically and continued to train in the gym whenever he could.
Speaking to the College Tribune Burns said that ‘doing exercise really helped me to get through the last 6 months and gave me some normality in my life when there was so much going on.’ He added that he ‘hoped the challenge would encourage people to stay active as I feel it helped me a lot during my chemotherapy.’
It was during his training in the gym that Burns came up with a brilliant fundraising idea. The ten-tonne challenge involves him lifting ten tonnes via 50 squats, 25 deadlifts and 25 bench presses of 100kg each.
By all accounts, the challenge was a great success. Burns said ‘loads of people got involved and used whatever weight and exercises they felt comfortable with which was great to see.’ He went on to add that he ‘was delighted with how it all went and the support was incredible.’ All proceeds from the challenge go to the Irish Cancer Society and St Vincent’s Hospital.
The challenge itself wasn’t the only triumph, the fundraising too was a roaring success. At first, the fundraising target was €5,000 but within 20 minutes of the page going live, donations had hit €2,000. Remarkably, at the time of writing, the total raised had rocked up to nearly €45,000, far surpassing wildest expectations. The challenge has attracted support from household names from Irish rugby like Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Garry Ringrose and Jordi Murphy, with various rugby prizes now up for grabs for anyone who donates €50 or more.
When asked about the fundraising efforts, Burns told us he ‘honestly can’t put into words how happy I am with how the fundraiser has gone. I had the idea of doing something for charity at the start of my treatment but wasn’t sure how my body would react to the chemotherapy. When I only had a few more treatments to go I was able to come up with a challenge that I felt I could do without putting too much stress on my body. My initial goal was €5,000 but within a couple of hours, I knew that that goal would be smashed and now we are at almost €45,000 which is crazy to think about’
It is not just about the funds raised for these vital organisations, however. Despite most people having heard little or nothing about Hodgkin Lymphoma, it is in fact most common in young adults as well as those over 75. Burns said that ‘another part of the fundraiser was to spread some awareness about the cancer I was diagnosed with as I had never heard of it until I was told I had it.’ He added that ‘the Instagram page has information about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which I hope will spread some awareness.’
Clearly, rugby has been and continues to be a major part of Emmet Burns’ life. Much of his rugby career has been spent at UCD having played back in 2016 when he arrived here for college. He shared how his coach and teammates were the first people he told about his diagnosis after friends and family.
Burns said that ‘as soon as I described what I was diagnosed with they were very supportive and told me they would do anything they could to help me get through the treatment.’ When he could, Burns would attend as many UCD rugby matches as he could and said ‘I really enjoyed going to the matches when I could and watching the lads play gave me something to look forward to during the week.’
Burns’ colleagues and teammates in UCD rugby also played a big role in the fundraising efforts. He told us that ‘the team did the challenge together in UCD which was great to see and donated a percentage of their UCD hat sales to the fundraiser which I really appreciated.’
He is very much looking forward to getting back to what he does best saying ‘I’m hoping I’ll be back training with the team in the next month or so and can then start looking to get some game time once my bodys ready for it.’
You can find plenty of photos of Emmet Burns’ ten-tonne challenge on their Instagram page called ‘emmetstentonnechallenge.’ You will also find plenty of important information on Hodgkin Lymphoma and ways to get involved. You can donate here: https://www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/11419047_emmet–s-ten-tonne-challenge.html
Conor Paterson – Co-Editor