“Go for it. Don’t hold back.” For young athlete Jodie Ounsley these words have become her reality. Her life. Her encouragement and determination. Read how the profoundly deaf England rugby star inspires people with hearing loss.
A life dedicated to sports
In Jodie’s life, sports comes first. It has defined her personality ever since she was a little child winning the Junior World Coal Carrying Championships, a title that she won another four times. The multi-talented athlete went on to become a successful athletics and jiu-jitsu champion, and represented the UK in the 100m and 200m sprints at the Deaflympics in 2017.
Jodie was born premature in 2001 and needed medication that led to a profound hearing loss in. She received cochlear implants when she was 13 months old. At The Elizabeth Foundation, a charity for children with hearing loss, Jodie attended weekly rehab sessions to kick-start her communication and speech and pave the way for her mainstream education.
Her profound hearing loss occasionally challenged her life, but never had the power to hold Jodie back, no matter what obstacles came her way. One of them was Jodie’s doctor’s advice against taking up rugby due to the risk that it might damage her implant. It was not until the age of 15 that Jodie started her rugby career. “I just got hooked”, she recalls. This game marked the start of a remarkably successful rugby career that resulted in contracts with the Team England Rugby Sevens and the Sale Sharks Women’s Team.
Jodie’s dream of a full-time job in sports, including traveling the world, became true in 2019. Her ultimate goal is playing in the Olympics. In 2020, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that kept her from reaching this goal, in 2021 injuries were preventing her start. But at this very young age, time is on her side.
And what about “no contact sports”? Jodie weighed her passion for rugby against her hearing. Determined to find a solution, she came up with a reasonable compromise, and is now wearing a scrum cap to protect her implant. She is prepared to take the risk that the CI might get damaged in a play rather than giving up rugby with all the amazing experiences involved.
Role-model for children with hearing loss
Jodie’s journey was not an easy one. Her communication difficulties have led to some frustrating, stressful situations as well as to moments of doubt. In rugby, communication is important, but fortunately this also includes body language. And the support of her team-mates and coach go beyond the average, allowing Jodie to settle in well despite her hearing loss.
Being the first female profoundly deaf professional rugby player to be selected for England has made Jodie a sports celebrity who is also putting her energy into a cause that is dear to her heart – raising awareness for hearing loss. She became a patron for The Elizabeth Foundation, alongside Eurythmics star Annie Lennox, and also started touring British schools on her mission to inspire the next generation. She shares her inspirational story with passion, conveying a positive message of hope and ambition. Her greatest reward is the positive feedbacks she gets from children, knowing that she can make a little difference in a child’s life.
Her advice for people with hearing loss and other conditions: “Go for it. Don’t let your hearing hold you back. It’s hard and you are going to struggle with it, but don’t let that be the reason not to try it anyway,” the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year 2020 said in an interview for BBC See Hear.
Not Just Anyone
Jodie Ounsley is not just anyone. Not just any athlete. Not just any rugby player. She is a special person, a role-model, a multi-talent, who happens to live with hearing loss. Her ambition to inspire others with her story culminated in the creation of her platform ‘Not Just Anyone’, launched in April 2021. Not Just Anyone aims to inspire, motivate and connect people across the globe, to encourage them to share their personal stories. Because sharing personal experiences with one another can have a huge impact on an individual. It can make a difference.
People like Jodie Ounsley are proof that one person can make a difference. Because she is not just anyone. And you can be, too.