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Jodie's rugby joy

Photo: Read Jodie's story

Jodie (17) has risen quickly through the ranks, excelling in both mainstream and deaf rugby and representing her country all over the world.

Although Jodie felt nervous as she walked out into the stadium in Sydney for the final of the World Deaf Rugby Sevens, she knew her team could win. 10,000 miles away back in the UK and in the middle of the night, her mum and dad were crowding round an iPad refreshing social media to try and find out what was happening. When she won, all three were over the moon and so happy Jodie had found her place within the deaf women’s rugby team.

Jodie’s parents Phil and Jo found out she was profoundly deaf when she was born three months prematurely. “For various reasons we wanted to go down the speech rather than sign route with Jodie,” Phil says. “A charity called the Elizabeth Foundation in Bradford helped us. At three months old, Jodie started working with them on getting eye contact and concentration.”

Jo and Phil admit they ‘didn’t have a clue’ what being deaf was going to mean for Jodie’s life. They were told she may not be able to speak, but felt determined and threw themselves into research. At 14 months Jodie was fitted with a cochlear implant. She attended mainstream schools and found school well adapted to her needs.

“Jodie’s first school was a little village infant school,” Phil says. “They were absolutely fantastic. Her next school were okay but it was bigger so it was harder with her moving around classrooms and having different teachers.”

While she managed well academically, Jodie’s first love has always been sport. “I originally did athletics, the 100m and 200m events, and I went to the Deaf Olympics in Turkey to compete when I was 16,” Jodie explains. “I started playing rugby when I was 14. My brother Jack started and I thought ‘I want to try that as well.’”

"I’m a really shy person but rugby has brought me out of my shell."

But Phil admits they did have some reservations. “They generally advise you not to do contact sports with a cochlear implant because of the risk of the implant being knocked out of place,” he explains. “Jodie really wanted to play rugby but I kept putting her off. To be honest, I thought Jodie would play a few games and that would be it. I never thought she’d be playing for her country!” Phil spoke to some experts and felt reassured that the risks were quite slim and they agreed that Jodie would always wear a scrum cap to protect her implant from being knocked off.

But Jodie soon stood out at her local club and was approached by her county team of Yorkshire.

“I love everything about rugby,” Jodie says. “I like the social side of it, meeting new people, the bond you create within the team and the opportunities it brings as well. I’m a really shy person but rugby has brought me out of my shell. You’re around people all the time and you can’t just stay quiet playing rugby, you’ve got to talk to each other.”

“All of Jodie’s coaches have been really good with her,” Phil adds. “Her first coach had never coached a deaf player before but I explained some adjustments they could make; explain things face-to-face before sending her onto the field, don’t shout instructions into the wind and rain, verify she’s understood you.”

“If I don’t hear something now, I just go up to my coach and tell them,” Jodie says. “I didn’t always feel confident to go up to a coach and say ‘Sorry, I didn’t hear that,’ but now I’ve started to realise that if I haven’t heard, it’s going to make me look bad on the pitch.”

After completing her GCSEs, Jodie was selected by RFU (Rugby Football Union) to continue her studies at Loughborough University. Now she stays there from Sunday to Friday each week training with a group of elite girls and studying for a BTEC in Sport.

“I love being at Loughborough,” Jodie says. “I live with three of my closest friends and it’s like a little family. They’ve made adjustments for me; I had a notetaker in my class, I have a vibrating fire alarm in my room and I have regular meetings to check I don’t need more support.”

"My ultimate dream is to get to the Olympics."

When it comes to rugby, Jodie is having new experiences all the time and is now aiming for the Olympics. “My greatest achievement was playing for the England under 18s [the hearing team],” she says. “We had our first game in Cardiff earlier this year. I’d never been to a big stadium like that with thousands of people watching. When I got the call up, I was so excited and nervous!

“Going to Australia with the England deaf women’s team was also amazing. I enjoy playing with them; it’s nice to know that they’re all deaf and in the same position as me. While we were out there, we went to the beach and supported the men’s team too. It was the best time of my life.

“My ultimate dream is to get to the Olympics. If other deaf young people wanted to play rugby, I’d say just do it. Don’t be scared that people won’t accept you or you might find it too hard.”

And Phil agrees, “I’d say definitely do it but you must speak up; let coaches know what your difficulties are and agree ways of communicating. I’m so proud of Jodie; we were told she wouldn’t be able to speak and she can speak really well, we were told she wouldn’t achieve academically and she’s got six GCSEs, and what she’s done on the sporting front is absolutely amazing.”