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Features | 23 Oct 2020

Meet Jodie Ounsley, the deaf rugby star with ‘fire in my belly’

England Sevens and Sale Sharks rugby player, Jodie Ounsley, has won The Rugby Players Association (RPA) Vodafone Gain Line Award, which celebrates professional rugby players’ off-field achievements. What are her plans for the future?

Jodie, who was the first female deaf rugby player to play in England’s Sevens squad, is also a former Great Britain jiu-jitsu champion.

Now she wants to channel her abundant competitive energy into business, she tells Vodafone UK News.

“I have a business idea that I would like to pursue in the future, which is creating a diverse range of scrum caps and sports clothes for people who feel different or are unique,” she says.

“My aspiration for the business is to promote diversity across the globe and allow people to express themselves through the brand.”

Be yourself and don’t shy away from what makes you different

(Jodie Ounsley)

The award means Jodie will receive a £1,500 business grant, as well as support and expert advice from Vodafone.

“It means a lot to me, it’s something I am really passionate about, so I’m very chuffed,” she says.

“Growing up with a disability, I feel I have a fire in my belly to go out and inspire other people,” Jodie explains.

Vodafone Gain Line Award nominees 2020

A self-confessed shy person, Jodie wanted to challenge herself by going in to schools and talking to students about her journey. The first school talk was such a success she was “hooked” from then on. “I loved the positive impact it was having,” she says.

Talks at seven more deaf schools followed.

“I spoke to kids about my journey and tried to inspire them where I could,” she says. “To see deaf children now taking up rugby because of me is incredible to see.”

Jodie’s message? “Be yourself and don’t shy away from what makes you different; embrace yourself.”

This includes taking care of your mental wellbeing, Jodie advises, particularly during this coronavirus pandemic.

“I think a big thing is just being kind to yourself and really looking after your mental health,” she says. “Doing things like yoga, mindfulness and meditation are really useful just to set up your day.”

‘Huge impact’

While Jodie obviously has drive and determination by the bucketload, she acknowledges – as a good team player would – the importance of others in helping her on her way.

“All of my teammates, coaching staff and my family have been amazing and really supportive,” she says. “The RPA has definitely had a huge impact.”

She singles out Kim Johnson, a Senior Development Manager at the RPA, who played a big part in Jodie’s life as an England Sevens rugby player.

I really look forward to seeing where her journey takes her and seeing her inspire many more on her way

(Kim Johnson, The RPA)

“It’s been an absolute privilege to work with Jodie in her first season of professional rugby,” Kim says. “She has worked so hard both on and off the pitch, and achieved so much in a short amount of time.

“I really look forward to seeing where her journey takes her and seeing her inspire many more on her way.”

Damian Hopley, Group CEO, RPA, said: “We are ecstatic to see Jodie Ounsley receive the first Vodafone-sponsored award following her incredible support and contribution across the deaf community.

“We look forward to following her career both on and off the rugby field.”

Another RPA award, the RPA Player’s Player, went to Wasps back row, Jack Willis, who was also nominated for Young Player of the Year.

Vodafone has a strong connection with the game of rugby, as official sponsor of Wasps, Lead Partner of the British & Irish Lions for the 2021 Tour of South Africa, and official communications partner for The RPA.

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