Former rep struck by degenerative disease

By Gary Caffell


Rugby

Former Wairarapa-Bush lock Stu Smith lacked nothing on the score of commitment on the rugby field but now he has a much tougher battle to face.

Smith, 33, has motor neurone disease, a neurological condition that causes the progressive degeneration of specialised nerve cells, called motor neurons, in the brain and spinal cord. It has no known cause and no treatment will significantly alter its course.

Married to Kelly and with three children, Georgia, 5, Molly, 3, and Cohen, 1, Smith, who these days farms at Waipukurau, will be the beneficiary of a fundraiser at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort in Masterton on February 15.

It will feature an interview session with Hurricanes players and coaches who will be readying themselves for a pre-season clash with the Chiefs at Mangatainoka the next day, a three-course meal and a charity auction at which sporting memorabilia, tourism and accommodation packages will be among items to go under the hammer. As well, the band Shindig will perform.

The fundraiser will start at 5.30pm, with tickets $130 each or $1200 for a table of 10. One of the prime organisers, close friend Anna Murphy, said five tables had already been sold, a mark of the popularity of the man who played 44 games for Wairarapa-Bush in the early 2000s while a member of the Eketahuna club, before having a stint with Tasman in the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup competition.

A report headed "Stu Smith the star performer", which appeared in the Wairarapa Times-Age in October 2004, spelled out Smith's value to Wairarapa-Bush in that year's NPC third division competition, in which they finished runners-up.

It read: "The huge workrate of Eketahuna lock Stu Smith has seen him grab headlines in game after game. Not only has he shone in his specialist job of lineout forward but he has grafted tigerishly in the rucks and mauls, made numerous charging runs with ball in hand and made more tackles than you'd ever expect a middle rower to make."

And his efforts that season did not go without reward as he was a finalist for the Air NZ NPC Third Division Player of the Year and Wairarapa Times-Age Senior Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Eketahuna Rugby Club president Dennis Dougherty recalls Smith as a totally committed club man, on and off the field. "He hardly ever missed a training and he always gave it everything he had, he was a superb role model for the players around him."

Those sentiments are echoed by Graeme Cheetham, a former Wairarapa-Bush hooker, who coached and played alongside Smith at Eketahuna: "You always knew what you would get from Stu, he was always prepared to give that extra yard. He was a great guy to have around the team."

Steve Olds played with Smith for Eketahuna and Wairarapa-Bush and called him "perhaps the most consistent player I ever played with.

"He was the sort of guy who never had a bad game and he could really lift himself for the big ones."

For more information on the Stu Smith fundraiser, contact Anna Murphy, email j.amurphy@farmside.co.nz or telephone (06) 375-0532.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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