England World Rugby 7s star Jodie Ounsley breaking down the barriers
FROM being British jiu-jitsu champion to signing a full-time professional contract with England Rugby 7s, former Sandal player Jodie Ounsley is the exemplar of a multi-talented athlete.
The 18-year-old’s sporting CV is nothing short of remarkable, but what makes her achievements even more impressive is that she was born profoundly deaf.
Ounsley was born prematurely and was the youngest person in the country to be fitted with a cochlear implant shortly after her first birthday, but that has not prevented her from realising her sporting dreams.
In the last two years alone, Ounsley has represented Great Britain in sprinting at the Deaflympics, signed for Tyrrells Premier 15s side Loughborough Lightning and won the World Deaf Rugby Sevens in Sydney before becoming the world’s first-ever deaf female rugby player to be selected for a full international 7s squad.
Now as she gears up to represent England at the HSBC World Rugby 7s Series in Dubai this week, Ounsley is hoping her success will inspire others with disabilities to follow in her footsteps.
“If you are willing to work hard, anything is possible,” she said.
“Don't be put off taking part in sport, there is always a way around communication issues. It helps to discuss with coaches and teammates early, suggest how they may help you understand.
“I support my communication with lip reading and body language. Rugby requires good communication, but I've always been very upfront with teammates and coaches about what I can and can't do.
“Players tend to support speech with body language and signals so that helps. Being deaf means I am very visual and always looking and scanning for information to support lipreading.”
Despite having excelled in physical combat sport and representing Great Britain at the Deaflympics in 2017, there was no better sport for Ounsley than rugby 7s – and that wasn’t just because it’s included in the 2020 Olympic programme.
“Rugby was the natural sport to use all my attributes. It really suits me, and I love the fast-moving physicality of it. I can't imagine anything much more taxing on the body," she added.
I aim to consolidate myself within the team, learn from those around me and ultimately play in the Olympics Games.”
“I was a little nervous entering an elite level professional team with my disability. However, my teammates and support team have been amazingly supportive. They've made me feel welcome and help to overcome any issues. Getting paid to play and travel the world is a dream come true.”
The HSBC World Rugby 7s Series in Dubai takes places between December 5 and 7.