WALKING out in front of thousands of people at a rugby match would be an incredible experience for any 11-year-old boy.

But for Bill Gornall from Holgate in York walking out on to the pitch ahead of the York Knights game at the Community Stadium against London Broncos on Sunday was an incredible achievement.

York Press: Bill waiting to go onto the pitchBill waiting to go onto the pitch (Image: Stephen Gaunt/Touchline)

As The Press previously reported, Bill has an extremely rare form of the life-limiting illness mitochondrial disease MELAS, a rare disorder that begins in childhood and mostly affects the nervous system and muscles. 

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After the match Bill said: "I started off as a normal little boy, climbing trees and playing with friends, riding my bike fast down hill at the park and then everything changed and I got mitochondrial disease and it all stopped as I started to get really tired.

"But now I've walked out in front of thousands of people at the Knights match and I feel so included and happy."

York Press: Bill and Sid talking to Joni Sommerville from the KnightsBill and Sid talking to Joni Sommerville from the Knights (Image: Stephen Gaunt/Touchline)

Bill, who goes to Acomb Primary School and lives with dad, Sid, and siblings, Buddy, eight and Olive, five, was diagnosed in 2020 and is now struggling to walk any distance and needs a wheelchair to get around.

The team at York RLFC got in touch following The Press article and invited Bill and his family to training as well as the match.

York Press: The players coming out onto the pitchThe players coming out onto the pitch (Image: Stephen Gaunt/Touchline)

Sid said: "We had a wonderful time. It was made even better with the weather and the result but I’m sure it would have been great regardless.  There are 5 hardcore Knights fans in the family now! 

"Bill thoroughly enjoyed his once in a lifetime experience. He was a little nervous walking out but managed it brilliantly. It’s funny to think that two years  ago that wall would have been nothing but that’s about his limit now. 

"By the time he got home he was exhausted, partly through nerves but mostly through excitement. He only just managed to drag himself upstairs at the end. 

"The reach that that experience will have had is invaluable. To hear the announcer explain Bill's condition on the loud speaker in front of all those fans and raising awareness of the condition and the charity is what it’s all about. I have already seen York Knights players starting to follow #bills_mito_battle on Instagram as well as the general public which is a real bonus.

"Bill faces up to what has been thrown at him brilliantly. It’s easy to forget what he should be able to do now as an 11-year-old boy as he normalises the whole situation and just ‘keeps on keeping on’."

York Press: Bill carrying the ball onto the pitchBill carrying the ball onto the pitch (Image: Stephen Gaunt/Touchline)

Matty Lewis, York RLFC commercial manager, said: "We set out really wanting to help raise awareness of Mitochondrial Disease, and give Bill an experience he wouldn't forget. So when kick off came around and Bill was to take the match ball out onto the pitch, I was delighted to hear the whole stadium fall silent as the announcer explained Mito and introduced Bill.

"It was a special moment, as every single person in the stadium stood and applauded Bill out of the tunnel. It put a lump in my throat, I was so proud of him.

"We'd like to thank Bill and his family, it's been a privilege to have them around."

York Press: The teams coming onto the pitchThe teams coming onto the pitch (Image: Stephen Gaunt/Touchline)

Soon after diagnosis Bill's family were forwarded the details of The Lily Foundation, the UK's leading mitochondrial disease charity and the largest charitable funder of mitochondrial research in Europe.

Sid, a designer for Thor's Bars, will be undertaking the Action Challenge Lakeland Ultra on June 10 - an 100km loop of The Lakes.

He said: "I’m doing it as part of the ‘Team Bill’ Just Giving Page which currently sits at £26,244 for The Lily Foundation. I’m hoping to reach my minimum funding requirement of £595 before the end of the month."