A 15-year-old deaf Huddersfield schoolgirl has scored on her debut for Yorkshire just months after taking up the sport and is already training with England.
Jodie Ounsley, a Year 10 student at Shelley College, has defied hearing impairment and a chronic knee condition to become the top try-scorer with Sandal Girls RUFC, despite only playing her first game in October.
And last Sunday the youngster who was born profoundly deaf made a spectacular debut for Yorkshire with two tries in the county under-15s’ 59-10 victory over Leicestershire.
Playing at wing or centre, Jodie has quickly established a reputation for her explosive running, deadly finishing and solid defence and earlier this year was invited to train with the England deaf team.
“It’s a fantastic sport for girls and I’m having a brilliant time,” said Jodie. “I’ve made loads of new friends and am fitter than I’ve ever been.
“Rugby is tough and I’m covered in bruises after games but it’s worth it!
Jodie Ounsley in action for Yorkshire v Leics at Leicester Forest RUFC. Photo by Darrell Holmes
“I didn’t think I’d ever get to play rugby because I had a cochlear implant when I was a toddler but a headguard means everything is protected.
“There are a few communications issues with my team-mates and coaches sometimes but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. Deafness isn’t something that should prevent anyone from realising their dreams in sport.”
Jodie, who lives in Thornhill, took up rugby after spending two frustrating years unable to participate in sport because of a knee complaint called Osgood Schlatter disease.
Fortunately, medical advice to completely rest the knee has worked for a sports-mad girl who had previously been crowned junior world coal carrying champion on four occasions, won five sprint titles at the Deaf Athletics Championship and collected a gold medal at the British Open Brazilian Jui Jitsui finals.
Her coach at Sandal, Andy Bevan, believes Jodie has both the ability and the attitude that could see her go on to represent England.
Jodie Ounsley winning the junior world coal carrying champion at Gawthorpe in April
“Jodie is an absolute pleasure to coach, she’s keen to learn and always quick to put into practice all the things we do on the training field,” said Mr Bevan.
“I’ve been coaching boys and girls for the best part of 20 years and have rarely had the privilege of working with someone as dedicated as Jodie.
“We had no reservations at all when Jodie’s dad, Phil, approached us and asked if her cochlear implant might prevent her from playing rugby.
“Jodie’s progress this year is testimony to what all children, whether they have impaired or unimpaired hearing, can achieve by becoming involved in sport.”
Fittingly, Jodie’s call up by Yorkshire for the match at Leicester Forest RUFC came on the eve of Deaf Awareness Week, a week designed to celebrate positive attitudes to deafness, promote social inclusion and raise awareness and understanding of all types of deafness and hearing loss.
The charity Action on Hearing Loss is celebrating the awareness week by sharing positive stories showcasing what those with deafness and hearing loss can do, including within sport.
Roger Wicks, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss said: “This Deaf Awareness Week, we are tearing up society’s assumptions and turning the spotlight on the amazing things deaf people and people with hearing loss can do.
“It is therefore incredibly inspiring to see Jodie succeeding on the rugby field and helping to prove that hearing loss and deafness are no barriers to incredible achievement. We wish her all the best for her future career in the sport.”
For information or advice on hearing loss contact the Action on Hearing Loss information line on 0808 808 0123 or textphone 0808 808 9000.