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In a league of his own

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Ade Adebisi

Ade Adebisi is the Vice Chairman/General manager of the Nigeria Rugby League Association. He is remarkable example of how you can become successful against all odds – including obstacles to health. He can be viewed as a true inspiration and a guardian angel to sickle cell sufferers who he seeks to encourage. He is also an advocate for pushing the health, inclusion and leadership agenda in sport in general. We are pleased to share his story here.

My name is Ade Adebisi. I am a British/ Nigerian Rugby League Player who’s played Rugby for the British Rugby League Association (BARLA), for the London Skolars, the London Broncos, Hull FC, Doncaster Lakers, Featherstone Rovers and Whitehaven.

I am the only Rugby player to ever play professionally with a genetic blood disorder called Sickle Cell. This blood disorder is suffered by Africans and Asians, with approximately 300,000 global births per year accounted for a sickle cell sufferers (about 200,000 in Africa). There is also a 50-90 per cent global death rate, of which 9 per cent is by children under 5 years old in sub Saharan Africa.

This condition contributed to the shortening of my sports career. When I look back and forth retrace my life’s journey, I still pinch myself and I’m very proud that I am here, doing something tangible and making a difference. I was just content with ‘surviving’ and I ask myself daily ‘why’ I survive. I was raised in East London, to parents that pretty much lived in fear. Fear of a disease that could take their children’s lives at any time. Sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the most common genetic causes of illness and death in the world. A disease which would have your parents try to wrap you in cotton wool for the fear of one having a ‘crisis’ and ultimately, dying.

Sport was not an option, and probably seen as a death wish. The turning point in my life was having a role model who believed in me, my PE teacher (Andy Hurst) who saw a talent in me, and who encouraged me to try out for his old Rugby League club (The London Skolars). I became a sportsman, played for the Skolars and then the Broncos. I had to keep this as far away from my mother as possible (she had lost one child already).

Sickle cell means you can’t take in enough oxygen. It means struggling with fitness levels, fatigue, pain and crisis. Today, I am the only sufferer to have played Rugby in the world so I decided to be an ‘AndyHurst’ to sickle cell sufferers, to show that anything is possible, using what I knew best: sport; in particular – Rugby!

I have worked hard to raise awareness of the disease, eradicate the stigma associated with Sickle Cell and be that person any young or old sickle cell sufferer can look up to.

I have dedicated the last few years of my life to this cause, constantly seeking to partner with, and engage global companies who share the mission and vision to raise awareness of Sickle Cell, support diagnosis and ultimately facilitate more research and treatment options for patients.

I know that the earlier we detect sickle cell the earlier we can find a solution for it. The more we bring this to the fore through Rugby, through sports, the more likely we partner with pharmaceutical companies that conduct research and have treatment options available.

The awareness I am raising through being an ambassador and through Rugby is my life goal. I am gaining momentum, attracting attention and I’m so grateful that I am here to do this.

Ade is currently preparing for the Rugby League World Cup 2021 International Development Programme Boost Participation for The Middle East & Africa (MEA) 2019 Championship In Nigeria taking place later this year between 2-5 October 2019 (https://www.rlwc2021.com).  If you would like to support in any way, and would like to learn more about this sport which gives Ade a continuous lease of life please visit: www.nigeriarugbyleague.org


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