Deaf teenager's Olympic dream moves a step closer to reality

When Jodie Ounsely was born profoundly deaf her parents were told she would never speak. Now the 15-year-old is taking women's rugby by storm. Catherine Scott meets her

It is hard to imagine Jodie Ounsley weighed less than 3lbs when she was born two months prematurely.

Now 15, Jodie is excelling in one of the toughest female sports. She plays rugby union for Sandal and Yorkshire and is hopeful of representing her country when she is old enough.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But what’s makes Jodie’s success even more remarkable is that she was born profoundly deaf. Antibiotics administered to her in the womb could have caused her to lose her hearing.

Jodie Ounsley with Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle at the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Awards

“We will never know 100 per cent if that is what caused her hearing loss,” says her dad Phil. “But she had to have the drugs to save her life. Without them we would have lost her.”

Jodie was in hospital for two months.

“The doctors said she’d be profoundly deaf, would struggle to ever speak and would have to go to a special school,” recalls Phil from Dewsbury.

But Phil and Jo wanted more for their little girl and were determined that she would one day speak. Through their exhaustive research they came across cochlear implants and they even travelled to America to learn more about the ‘bionic ear’ that could help Jodie ‘hear’.

Jodie Ounsley, 15

At just 14 months old Jodie became the youngest person in the country to receive a cochlear implant.

“We spent a month in LA at the John Tracy Clinic. Jodie was in the nursery there and we had help and guidance on how to bring up a profoundly deaf child with a cochlear implant.”

With help and support Jodie’s speech and understanding developed and other than the transistor on the side of her skull you would never know she was deaf.

“When she was five we had to make the decision whether or not to send her to a special or mainstream school.”

jJodie Ounsley, 15, runner up at the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Awards

The Ounsleys decided to send Jodie to a mainstream school.

“It was fantastic to see her develop from what were told to expect. She keeps up with her hearing friends although she does sometimes find it difficult to learn new skills.”

From a young age Jodie, who will be 16 in January, showed an aptitude for sport, particulary athletics. “She’s always loved sports and is a natural athlete,” says proud dad Phil who himself is a former Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion and wrsetler.

Even at the age of three she was showing her strength.

Jodie Ounsley plays rugby for Sandal RUFC and Yorkshire

“I used to play rugby and also competed in the Coal Carrying Championships. Jodie watched me training with a sack on my back, the next thing we know she is carrying a sack of carrots round the kitchen as fast as she can. That was the first time I thought there might be a bit of an athlete in that little girl.”

Jodie went on to compete and win the World Coal Carrying Championships five times.

She excelled at school and clubs athletics, but she always had a passion for rugby, something her parents tried not to encourage.

“It is a tough sport and at the time there weren’t that many girls teams. We were worried that she could get hurt especially with the transistor the on the side of her head,” says Phil.

But when Sandal rugby union club started a girls’ team Jodie saw her chance.

“We said if she wore a skull cap with extra padding we would let her play.”

Jodie Ounsley with Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle at the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Awards

The first match Jodie played in she came on for the last five minutes and scored a try.

“From that moment on she has been absolutely fantastic.”
Jodie now plays for Yorkshire under 18 and after her GCSEs she hopes to train at an elite rugby college.

“My aim is to become a professional rugby player and represent my country at the next Olympics,” says Jodie.

“I just love everything about the sport. It’s not just the physical side it is a team sport and I really like that.”

Last month Jodie was nominated for the Young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Award. She was got down to the last three from 88 nomiees. She was named runner up but got the chance to rub shoulders with some Olympions.

“I met Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle who was lovely,” says Jodie. “It was an amazing night to see so many people I admire in one room. It was very inspirational.”

Jodie is now busy trying to raise funds to compete in next year’s Deaflympics in Turkey.

“There is no rugby in the games but I am hoping to compete in the 100 and 200 metres.”

There are 100 countries taking part and Jodie will be competing again adults.

She has launched a crowdfunding bid to raise the £2,000 she needs to attend the Deaflympics and also fund her college course,

“I have an opportunity to attend a specialist residential rugby college next year, a pathway to my goal of a career in elite professional rugby,” says Jodie who is fitting revising for her GCSEs around rugby training.

“I intend to represent GB internationally and at future Olympics in rugby sevens. I currently train with the women’s deaf England team, but am too young for squad selection. Also, as I’m only 15 I don’t qualify for a student loan so need to raise £9800 for college accommodation for the next two years.”

She has already raised more than £1,000 and this surprisingly shy teenager is grateful to everyone who has supported.

“I can’t say thank you enough to people who are helping me follow my dreams.”

Her little brother Jack, nine is also a keen rugby player, although he plays league which causes many an argument over the dinner table.

Jodie Ounsley, 15
jJodie Ounsley, 15, runner up at the Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Awards
Jodie Ounsley plays rugby for Sandal RUFC and Yorkshire