Doddie Weir's life lessons as told by his Telegraph columns

Doddie Weir's life lessons as told by his Telegraph columns - PA/David Davies
Doddie Weir's life lessons as told by his Telegraph columns - PA/David Davies

Former Scotland second row and Telegraph Sport columnist Doddie Weir OBE died on Saturday at the age of 52 after a six-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease.

Weir started writing columns for Telegraph Sport in 2018 – and here are some of the lessons he learnt on and off the pitch.

Try to say yes to everything

January 2018

One of the questions I have been asked most frequently since [my MND diagnosis] is ‘has your outlook on life changed?’

Well, I can honestly say that it hasn’t. It has brought us closer together as a family and it has made buttoning up a shirt a damn sight more difficult, but in terms of the way I have tried to live my life nothing much has changed.

I still wear horrendous tartan suits, tell even more horrendous jokes and enjoy the odd beer or two.

I have never had time for regrets. I’ve always tried to say yes to everything. Do what you can today and then worry about tomorrow when it comes. This is a philosophy that goes back 27 years to when I was a lanky 19-year-old coming into a Scotland camp for the first time.

I remember how nervous I was to make a good impression. We had a fitness test early the next morning so I was tucked up in bed at 10pm with a cup of cocoa. Then Gary Armstrong, the great scrum half who was my room-mate, comes in and says, “Night out. Let’s go.” Of course, the fitness test was horrendous but it was worth it. There’s no such thing as a bad party.

If you cannot win on the pitch, then win off it

March 2019

Unfortunately for me, England had a fairly handy team in those days, with the likes of Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Richard Hill. But they also had a fair proportion of, let us call them “characters”, who you really looked forward to playing against: Will Carling, Austin Healey, Matt Dawson and Brian Moore. You just wanted to get a hold of them to say hello in the politest possible way.

To our mind, they were the epitome of the arrogant Englishman stereotype. It is funny how your opinion changes when you get to know people.

Mickey Skinner, though, he was just a numpty. Any time he thought you were looking too immaculate at the post-match dinner, he would pour a jug of water over you, which got less funny the more times he did it.

Even if we did not win many battles on the pitch against England, we made sure we won our fair share off the field. I still chuckle about what happened to Neil Back after he won his first cap against us in 1994.

As is tradition after your debut, everyone offers you a drink. Now Neil was quite young then and probably a bit wet behind the ears when it came to his drink. Probably because he was such a dedicated player. So of course, I took advantage of that.

Sitting down next to him, I filled up a red wine glass and a white wine glass, but gave him the bigger glass and told him to down his drink. We did that a couple more times without him noticing the difference in size. Then I ordered a triple gin and tonic and a tonic water and we had two of them, with me having the tonic water.

We said our goodbyes and I later heard he fell asleep in the toilet of the team bus. Because the door only opened on the inside they had to pretty much leave him there for the night. That is a moral victory if ever there was one.

A young Neil Back bore the brunt of some off-field shenanigans - Getty Images/Allsport/David Rogers
A young Neil Back bore the brunt of some off-field shenanigans - Getty Images/Allsport/David Rogers

Savour each and every moment

June 2019

Around the same time that I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease two-and-a-half years ago, my mother announced that she had cancer. If you want to know where I get my positive spirit and fight from, it's her. She never gave in. Unfortunately, every race has a finish and hers came a couple of weeks ago.

I hope I made her proud. I know she had a wee smile when she came down to Cardiff for the Doddie Cup, but I know she was equally proud of all her children and 13 grandchildren. She never had favourites.

More than anything, she just loved life. She remained so positive right until the final week when you saw her attitude change and her health deteriorate. I am sure that is not a coincidence. It is my job to continue her fight.

The day after her funeral I went to see my goddaughter in a school play. I could have said, ‘no, I’m not in the mood’, but I saw it as an opportunity to make some special memories. In a strange way it has given me even more incentive to crack on and enjoy the time that I have remaining.

No one lives forever, but few people appreciate that. You need to savour each and every moment because you simply do not know what is around the corner.

Spending time with family is the most important thing

July 2020

Since the day I was diagnosed with MND in 2016, when I was told I would be in a wheelchair within 12 months, I have learnt not to put much store in plans. It is impossible to know what is round the corner when you are given a life expectancy of one to three years.

Yet that knowledge makes reaching certain milestones all the more special. Saturday is a big one, my 50th birthday, a landmark I truly did not think I would reach. When we first started plotting the guestlist, we came up with 800 names. Instead I will only be able to celebrate with eight people, including five in our household, because of the Scottish government’s coronavirus regulations.

While I have always loved hosting the biggest, wildest parties, spending time with my immediate family – my wife Kathy and my three boys – is the most important thing to me right now. So we will make the most of it.

As long as I get a bit of black pudding, a bit of fillet steak and a nice glass of champagne then I’ll be happy. I have also been told that I will be inducted into the Scottish Rugby Union’s Hall of Fame on Saturday which is as touching a present as I could wish for.

Focus on the things you can do

January 2021

In my situation, I have a choice of whether to focus on all the things I can no longer do due to MND, or concentrate on what I can still do. Walking up and down the stairs every day is like winning a Six Nations match for me.

Even things like being able to text message on my mobile phone and operate the television remote take on a degree of significance other people would find bizarre. It may seem the tiniest thing, but for me it means I can still send stupid jokes to my friends. And if you can operate the remote then you are king of the sitting room.

I also give myself milestones so I have something to look forward to. First it was simply to get that first Christmas, then it was being present for my eldest son’s 18th birthday, then my 50th and then my good lady’s 50th.

They might be big birthdays or completely arbitrary dates but, as long as you have something circled in the calendar, you are looking forwards, rather than backwards.

Don't be afraid to use the word 'love'

November 2021

Men – and I definitely include myself in this bracket – are uncomfortable using the “L” word, especially with regard to other men.

I reflect on my own situation and how lucky I am to have so many great friends who have done so much to help me. It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here today without the love of guys like Rob Wainwright,  Kenny Logan, Gregor Townsend, Gary Armstrong, Carl Hogg and his wife Jill Douglas, and many others.

When I announced my diagnosis four years ago, I was blown away by the wave of support we first received. In the back of my mind, I didn’t know how long before the water went back out to sea. I thought I might quickly become yesterday’s news and be quietly forgotten about.

Instead, last week, we hosted a dinner for 400 people in Edinburgh celebrating four years of us launching our foundation.

Somehow people still have not forgotten about that and I owe that to Rob, Jill and dozens of others who have not stopped fighting for me and shouting for our cause.