Joining Jack keep inspiration closer to the heart than most at Dubai Sevens

Jack Johnson, just six years old and with a devastating degenerative illness, is the heart and soul behind the Joining Jack charity squad at Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Jack Johnson, son of former Wigan warrior Andy Johnson, is the namesake for the Joining Jack charity team at Dubai Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National
Jack Johnson, son of former Wigan warrior Andy Johnson, is the namesake for the Joining Jack charity team at Dubai Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Not for the first time this year, a little boy with spiky blonde hair and a cheeky smile poured cold water over the head of a rugby league luminary and took great delight in doing so.

This was no ice bucket challenge, though. This time, on the sidelines of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Jack Johnson was helping cool down his father’s friends.

Jack turns seven next month and for the past three years has battled with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a muscle-wasting disease that has no cure. By adolescence it is expected he will be unable to walk, in time his heart and lungs will fail, and death usually occurs before the age of 30.

Jack’s father is former Wigan Warrior Andy Johnson, who set up the Joining Jack foundation shortly after his son was diagnosed in October 2011. The support from the British sports community has been remarkable and the charity is represented at The Sevens this weekend by a host of former rugby league players, including Andy Farrell, now assistant coach of England’s union side.

In 2012, Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medallist, accompanied the Joining Jack team as a water carrier. This year, Josh Charnley, one of rugby league’s finest players and a whippet winger with England, is carrying the responsibility – aided by a little accomplice.

“Anybody else needing cooled down?” Jack asked on Thursday with a grin, after pouring a bottle of water over the head of a sweating figure in the team’s sponsor-laden kit. “If anybody else needs it, I’m the person who does it, OK?”

Charnley, who later carried Jack on his broad and tattooed shoulders, got involved in the charity after being taken to the Johnson house by Kris Radlinski, Wigan’s general manager. “I met Jack and didn’t know anything about the charity at the time, but Andy and [wife] Alex told me everything about it and from that day I’ve stayed with them and tried to do my best for them,” Charnley said.

Earlier this year, when the 23 year-old Warrior took the Ice Bucket Challenge, it was Jack who poured the water, amid much giggles.

“That’s who this is all for and I’m really close with the family so it’s great to help them however I can,” Charnley said after watching Joining Jack overcome Racing RFC Lagos. “We’ll do anything to get a cure for Duchenne’s, so to get all the boys to come out here and give up their time is great.”

When Farrell’s son Owen scored a try for England against Italy during the Six Nations Championship earlier this year, he linked his fingers together in the symbol for Joining Jack. It was a demonstration of unity and warmly welcomed by the Johnsons, who helped organise a charity auction in Dubai on Wednesday night.

“We love coming out to Dubai to spread the word about Joining Jack,” Andy Farrell said. “We have support from all over the rugby world and as a rugby league family, it’s so pleasing to see it turning into a rugby union family and a big rugby family in general.”

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM


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