Lower league football hero lifts lid on facing Huntington’s disease

ONE of Scotland’s fittest footballers has opened up on knowing he will one day develop the rare incurable genetic brain condition Huntington’s disease – and his refusal to let it stop him living a full and healthy life for as long as possible. 

Cowdenbeath captain Robbie McNab, 27, discovered he has the faulty hereditary gene that causes Huntington’s in his early 20s. 

The disease – that can eventually cause people to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and care for themselves – affects around 800 people in Scotland, and has already taken its toll on the footballer’s dad Alan at just 54. 

A further 3,200 are estimated to be at risk of developing Huntington’s disease as a result of inheriting the faulty gene.

The Falkirk-born former Bairns, Stirling Albion, and Kelty Hearts central midfielder – who has made hundreds of appearances in Scotland’s lower leagues and cup competitions – tells his story in a short film to be screened during A View From The Terrace, now available on the BBC iPlayer

In the film, produced by Edinburgh-based creative studio Studio Something, Robbie shares his remarkable journey — his resilience, his love for football, and his commitment to living life to the fullest – as he works as a personal trainer aiming to pass on his dedication to fitness to others. 

It charts OWNNIT gym co-owner Robbie taking on daring activities including skydiving and paragliding, and an incredible endurance challenge as he runs up the UK’s highest peak Ben Nevis to raise money and awareness for others living with Huntington’s disease and their families. 

The film also includes an emotional interview with Robbie’s mum Amanda, who has watched her husband’s condition progress, and now knows her son could face a similar future.

Robbie said: “Huntington’s disease takes its toll on whole families and relationships.

“I see what’s happening to my dad as his symptoms progress – he was always an ‘up and at it’ kind of person but it’s becoming more difficult now.

“I tested positive for the faulty gene in my early 20s and since then I haven’t taken my mind or my body for granted. I enjoy myself but have a much healthier lifestyle to stay as fit and as strong as possible. Life’s short and mine could be shorter in terms of quality. I also feel that exercise is a privilege and I want to make the most of it while I can. 

“Time isn’t just precious for people with neurological diseases, it’s precious for everybody. I know it will come for me eventually, but it’s not this day.” 

Robbie took just one hour, 37 minutes to scale the 1,345 metres to the top of Ben Nevis – then only 53 minutes to get back down, raising £2,500 for Scottish Huntington’s Association, a charity that supports people living with the condition and their families in Scotland. 

Jordan Laird, Executive Producer of A View From the Terrace and co-founder of Studio Something, said: “Through interviews, intimate moments, and seeing Robbie’s inspiring feats and challenges this is a film about a young athlete facing a future tinged with uncertainty, and approaching it with positivity.

“As football fans we don’t often know all that much about players away from the game, and we certainly never really know what some might be going through in their own lives.

“Robbie shows that whether or not we are battling something like this, we should appreciate the time we have, and simply he reminds us that football isn’t a matter of life and death, but something that gives us all a wee bit peace from the reality of life.”

Alistair Haw, Chief Executive Officer of Scottish Huntington’s Association, said: “Families with Huntington’s and those who care for them so often feel misunderstood and isolated due to a widespread lack of understanding about the disease amongst health and social care professionals and the general public. To see someone like Robbie opening up on television about his own situation will inspire many people to learn more about this devastating condition, which will make a huge difference to the families we support.

“Scottish Huntington’s Association is the only charity in the country that provides specialist support for the Huntington’s community, which it desperately needs. We are therefore hugely grateful to Robbie for his generosity and commitment to our cause. The money he is raising will be put towards ensuring that every Huntington’s family has access to the specialist support they need through our network of HD Specialists, Specialist Youth Advisors and Financial Wellbeing Officers. The awareness he is raising is priceless.”

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