The Game Changers

Jodie Ounsley: The impact of strong, powerful role models

May 30, 2023 Sue Anstiss Season 14 Episode 1
The Game Changers
Jodie Ounsley: The impact of strong, powerful role models
Show Notes Transcript

Today’s guest is Jodie Ounsley – a professional rugby player and Honorary President of UK Deaf Sport, who will also be a Gladiator in the new series that returns to the BBC later this year.

Jodie is a powerful role model for women and girls and talks openly about her deafness and how it’s impacted her life on and off the pitch.  

 She explains how she’s unintentionally been training for Gladiators all her life and how she’s preparing for the public profile that comes with becoming ‘Fury’ in the new series.

Jodie began her sporting career as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion before representing the UK in athletics at the Deaf Olympics. Five times Coal Carrying Champion, she then moved on to rugby where she’s represented England at 7s and now plays for the Exeter Chiefs in the Premier 15s.

Alongside her success in sport, Jodie was awarded the Young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year and was also included in the BBC Woman’s Hour Power List 2023 which recognised 30 outstanding women in sport. 

Jodie’s videos on TikTok, where she shares her life as a young woman living with hearing loss, have been viewed almost 5 million times.

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.

Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers

Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media

A Fearless Women production

Jodie Ounsley: The impact of strong, powerful role models

Sue Anstiss 

Hello and welcome to The Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing women in sport. What can we learn from their journeys as we explore some of the key issues around equality in sport and beyond? 

I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners Sport England, who support the Game Changers Podcast through a National Lottery award. My guest today is Jodie Ounsley, a professional rugby player and honorary president of UK Deaf Sport. Jodi began her sporting career as a Brazilian jiujitsu champion before representing the UK in athletics at the Deaf Olympics. She then moved on to rugby where she's represented England at Sevens and played for the Exeter chiefs in the Premier fifteens.

Alongside her success in sport, Jodie was awarded the young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year and was also included in the BBC Women's Hour Powerlist 2023, which recognised 30 outstanding women in sport. 

Jodie’s videos on TikTok where she shares her life as a young woman living with hearing loss have been viewed almost 5 million times. And I would recommend you,  go and have a look at those to understand more of her life and all she's doing. 

 

Excitingly, it's also just been announced that Jodie will be a Gladiator in the new series that returns to the BBC later this year. So, Jodie, can I start with that exciting news about Gladiators? How are you feeling about it? 

Jodie Ounsley 

To be honest, it's been a crazy ride. Like I'm just still processing it, to be honest. I'm, I'm honestly so excited. And the funny thing is, like my parents and my family,  Gladiators has always been in our life and we always joke saying, you'd be amazing Gladiator, or You've been training to be a Gladiator, so now this opportunity's come up. It's weird how it's come up in this part of my life and now having the opportunity to be a Gladiator, it's, it's just bizarre to be honest. <laugh>,

Sue Anstiss 

I love that it's been a part of your life cause it was like the eighties and nineties so, you've obviously talked about it, you've been aware of it cause  not everybody of your generation wouldn't necessarily have been so aware of it.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, so obviously I knew it would big sort of like in the eighties and nineties, but then it did come back, was it 2009? 2008. Oh, okay. And I think they had two series and then my dad was a contender on it. Oh.

So that's how I first sort of came about. So I must have been about seven or eight years old at this point. And I were watching him and oh, I absolutely loved it. I were just so into it and all the training obviously coming from like the World Coal carrying championships, athletics, like fighting, and then seeing Gladiators is, it was just all a mixture and I, I absolutely loved it. So it was a lot of like, do you know ToysRUs?  Went there, got like the dual, like 

Sue Anstiss 

Oh the sticks? Yeah.

Jodie Ounsley 

Got the outfit, got the helmet, got my padded shin pads, got on the trampoline and I always fighting with my dad and then we sort of got some rings set up in our garage, and I was just doing that, constantly swinging back and forth. There's videos and I honestly look like a little monkey. And then later on, cause we used to have horses at the time, we converted our stable into a climbing wall, so like <laugh>, there's a climbin Gladiators, so we're just climbing in the stables swinging on the rings. So without even realising, I think I have actually been training on life to be a gladiator and I've just happened to be a rugby player, but really I think I'm meant to be a Gladiator <laugh>.

Sue Anstiss 

That's fabulous. That's why it's my brother.  Tim was a contender as well. Oh, I know. So having, talking to you and knowing I was talking to you, I went back and found on YouTube the video, I have to send you the video of it, of him. we all went up to Birmingham to watch. So Yeah, it's funny, isn't it, how it impacts people's lives. It's just the most amazing, um, it was an amazing event at the time, so I'm so, so excited for you this time round. So what were the trials like? What was the getting selected? What were the physical trials? Obviously you'd, you'd been trading for the last decade <laugh>.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah. Yeah, so it was quite lucky actually. They'd been reaching out to me asking if I could come to the trials and I, I just couldn't make any of the trials because obviously I was either playing or I was training. I was like, I can't, I can't do this and then there just happened to be one trial that landed in like a, a rest week. So I went and did the trial.  and it was gruelling. It was like Savage.  but yeah, so we did a trial and then went away and sort of just waited really. And then, literally got a call, sort of a couple of emails back and forth, just saying what the opportunity would be and then had a Zoom call and then they just, they just told me basically.

And I, I generally had it in my head. I thought, no, I, I I don't think I've quite made it. And the way, the way they was speaking on the Zoom call was like, do you know when you see on like XFactor or something where they're like, <laugh>. And then to say actually, yeah, you've, you've got the rule. So I was honestly, I was so excited. And the thing is, on the Zoom call, I was typical just me being a Yorkshire lass, I wasn't like crying or I was just so speechless. I literally said, oh, I'm so chuffed. I said something like that. But, um, yeah, it's just, it's crazy.

Sue Anstiss 

That's amazing, isn't it. And have you met any of the other Gladiators? I I'm not asking you to give away the secrets as it's not quite announced. Have you met other Gladiators yet at all? 

Jodie Ounsley 

Well, I've actually met, probably like three or four and you'll actually <laugh> you'll know one <laugh>. Yeah. I think you'd be pretty excited who it is because it was funny cause we didn't know. We was at the trial together and then, we obviously we didn't know who was going to, who got sort of selected. Yeah. And we turned up to like our fittings or whatnot and we saw each of our, we literally scream like, oh, brilliant. Like, we're gonna have a great time. 

Sue Anstiss 

Such fun. Such fun. And do you know what your name is yet? Is that all to be revealed?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, so I'm called Fury. <laugh>. (Oh, I love it. )Fury. So obviously that they sort of came up with this name because obviously when I feel like I've got different personalities, so when I'm off the field  in the rugby world, I'm quite, I'm quite a shy person. I'm warm trying to be friendly. I I'll do anything for anyone. but as soon as I get on the field, I, I switch. I'm just, I'm ready, do some damage <laugh>. So, it's actually, to be honest, FII is me. I feel like I don't have to be this different type of person or put on this character. Um, so FII is a very, you know, she's a very aggressive, powerful and when she's in competition, she's out there to absolutely, like I said, do some damage. She's not your friend. But as soon as she comes out of that competition, she's a much a softer side, a very, you know, sure Sportmanship and very warm towards the contender. So it's that contrast. And I, I don't think people will be expecting that because normally a Gladiator sort of stays in one, one part of the character So there's quite a contrast with Fury, which is quite exciting.

Sue Anstiss 

It's really interesting. So years, this is years ago in the eighties, I worked for an agency at the time that did, uh, we were working with Blockbuster videos and we did lots of, we had Gladiators coming and doing personal appearances and the queues down the road for autographs and like, it was just phenomenal the  the kind of profile and drive. So you ready? Are you ready for that almost what that might look like in terms of recognition and fame of, of Fury? 

Jodie Ounsley 

A lot of people are saying you need to be prepared for that. And I'm just thinking of, I, I don't think I've processed that. And to me, I'm, you know, I'm a rugby player and I happen to absolutely have a, a big love for Gladiators. So for me to be a Gladiator, maybe people might, you know, people might not even know me as a rugby player, people might know me,  cause at the minute people either known me as a rugby player or people don't know me as a rugby player, they probably know me as, you know, an athlete who's deaf and all the deaf awareness and teachers and parents. So then this, this other aspect, now I might be just known as Fury and they might not know me as anything else. So that's quite what I'm still trying to wrap my head around. But obviously I feel like I do need to be prepared, and more, I think I need to be more prepared for the grilling of my teammates because it's never gonna end. I'm gonna be training and it's all gonna be Fury, Fury, Fury. So yeah, it's a lot to get their heads round.

Sue Anstiss 

And have they helped you, have they given you support to prepare you for the profile that will come?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, no, they've been really good with that actually. you know, they've had a psychologist on board, you know, already good before that, before it's even started,  just to like sort of try and get your head around like, especially around, you know, what social media is like these days and obviously in the previous gladiators, social media wouldn't have been a huge presence. So, that's probably a big role in this theory. So yeah, they're being amazing with that and I think they'll continue that as, you know, we get,  go into it.

Sue Anstiss 

Yeah, that's really reassuring to hear. It's important, isn't it? And and how important do you think Gladiators can be, or programmes like Gladiators for celebrating strong, powerful women in our society?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, do you know what, that was one of the biggest things I was excited about. I was obviously excited about Gladiators and, you know, having that opportunity, but in my head I was thinking this could be so exciting whenever, if they had such a big opportunity like this. But then also showcasing like strong female athletes, but not just female athletes, rugby players, to be specific. So I'm just so excited about that and like, you know, it's a family show. So many different people will be watching, you know, whether it's kids, whether it's adults, and if they see, you know, this individual as Fury, you know, being aggressive, you know, smashing people around, you know, being competitive but then also showing that you can, you can also be feminine, you can also be friendly and just showing the whole balance of what you can be really, and yeah, I'm, so, I'm, that's what I'm most excited about, just having that platform, I suppose. Um, and doing the best I can be to also try and be a role model, I suppose.

Sue Anstiss 

I'm so excited for you <laugh>. I was like, can I keep it calm? But I'm really excited for you. And we saw, didn't we last year how Rose's appearance on strictly come dancing had such an enormous impact on the deaf community in the UK and she went on to win and I, I mean that dance, that silent dance for me was the most powerful thing I've seen, you know, on the show ever. It was extraordinary. So how did that dance affect you and her involvement in a show like that? 

Jodie Ounsley 

Like, obviously I'm like 22 now, but even, and when I saw sort of Rose on the show, I was like, oh, this is, this is amazing. Like, you know, someone who was deaf on the show, someone's, you know, who's having that platform and using their, you know, their, to try and be a positive change really. Um, and then when I saw that silent dance, it, it gave me goosebumps. I just, it was so simple, but it felt like I could, something I could really relate to and everyone could relate to whether you're deaf or not, it was just, it was brilliant and she had a massive role in that.

Sue Anstiss 

And are you hoping that your presence on Gladiators could have a, a similar impact in terms of just bringing people into your world?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, no, I'd love that, obviously from like the deaf like awareness side of things, but then also like the women's sport, women's, you know, athletes. I just think I'm so excited about that and I just really wanna try and use my platform to do that and just try and inspire other people. So yeah, absolutely. I hope so.

Sue Anstiss 

Brilliant. Are you happy to talk a little bit about your, your deafness and, and growing up too? I'm interested to explore that. So what have your parents shared with you, uh, about your diagnosis from when you were a baby?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, so to me, I've always known, I've been profoundly deaf from birth, so there's obviously different, different levels of deafness.  but I'm basically at the bottom <laugh>, there's nothing left like in both ears, there's just nothing there. Like I'm talking, you could, like, we always say you could literally get a gun or something and fire a gun right next to me here and I just, I just wouldn’t hear it. So yeah, so profoundly deaf is the bottom, which you can't hear anything at any decibel level. So that was from a baby and the whole reason, well actually I found out in lockdown that I may have not been born deaf. It was actually medication that made me lose my hearing when I was a baby. So obviously I was, I was premature so I was really ill and you know, I needed medication to get better otherwise, you know, it could have been a lot worse.

So, it was the case of they were giving me medication but then they didn't check how much, how much was in my system before giving me another dose. So I think that's a side effect is losing your hearing,  but to me, I've just been deaf since a baby and like, you know, everyone's saying, well how bad's that you’ve just found that out. And I'm like, you know, everyone makes mistakes. Like, you know, it's just one of those things really and that's all I've ever known. So then I went to get a cochlear implant when I was 13 months old and then from there it was just the whole journey of rehab, speech therapy, every day sort of through the week until I started school.  

Sue Anstiss 

Can you tell us about the cochlear implant? And I have, I've followed some of your social, but just explain how that works and, and what your day-to-day level of hearing is now or what that offers you.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, so like I think most people think, oh, if you have a cochlear implant, it's like a quick fix. You've got sort of normal hearing, but it's, it's nothing like that. It's just, it's it's an amazing piece of technology obviously. So, the way it works, it almost, it basically bypasses sound, past my ears,  because they don't work and send signals straight to like my brain and it so interprets it as sound and the science behind it, I can't, I don't even know it myself. It's bizarre. t allows me to hear sounds and obviously I probably hear very different to what you hear but mostly I communicate with people by lip reading and just the way you move through your mouth and the lick patterns and just years of repetition and understanding that.  but yeah, it's amazing. It just allowed me to hear some sound, but obviously when I take it off, nothing <laugh>

Sue Anstiss 

And are cochlear implants constantly evolving and developing and improving? Is there, I imagine there must be, uh, developments in that area.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, they are, they are sort of developing as we speak, you normally have an upgrade after maybe eight years or something like that. So I've probably had about three, what about three different implants since I've, been growing up and they have improved probably maybe the sound or the direction of sound. So I've just got my new upgrade probably at the start of the year. Um, and it basically just, I've definitely noticed a slight difference. It sort of picks up direction to sound a little bit more because obviously on this side I don't have one, so anyone sat on this side, I just don't really hear what they're saying in people. The amount of times when I'm sat down at, you know, tables or in school people thought I was really rude that that was just like avoiding them. And obviously I've got a bit of a like resting bee face. 

Sue Anstiss 

<laugh>

Jodie Ounsley 

So people think I’m quite arrogant or rude, but really it's just, I hadn’t heard you  it and I'm concentrating that hard. I just have a natural straight face

Sue Anstiss 

<laugh>. That's so funny. And you, you mentioned then school and going through mainstream school. So how was that for you? And that I just cannot hardly imagine how hard that, that must have been as a young, all that young people go through anyway, you know, in school life.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, it was, it was really difficult and I think that's a whole reason why I went straight into sport. I love sport because it was something I felt like I was good at. It's something that I enjoyed and even the little things, obviously I always had to, you know, make sure I had to be sat at front of the class so I could see the teacher in the mouth. But I, I didn't, the problem was I didn't have confidence at all when I was in school. I was, I was shy, I was very shy. I'm quite shy now, but I think I've become a lot more confident than I was in school. But even just, I didn't even have the confidence if I've missed something or if I was struggling class, I would never, you know, put my hand up and ask the teacher what they said or, or make them aware that I missed what they said or I was struggling. I would just keep it bottled up and just struggle and I would miss out on a lot of things. So I think when it came to PE it was the best thing ever because it was like, oh, I don't really need to, don't really need to listen or hear as such, I can just get out there, do something I feel good at, and it just takes my mind off the struggles I was having in class so I think that's the whole reason why I loved it so much. And I would, I saw PE like it was the Olympic finals, 

I took it too seriously. I came in like my own clothes, like my muscle vest me own shorts and like running train as well as everyone else was in like, you know, PE kit. So,  yeah, I think I just, I just put everything into the sort of sport inside of it cause I felt good at it. Um, but yeah, especially sort of going in high school, that was where I should go the most because obviously bigger groups of people in class, a lot more people and a lot more different teachers as well. And quite a lot of teachers would forget about my deafness or not really know me too well and you know, it's easy to forget anyway. And I think because people say I, I speak quite well or you know, I, you might not always realise that I am deaf or I don't raise it enough to, to just naturally forget. Um, and then it was only when I went out of school that I gained confidence. Um, and now I can speak about it.

Sue Anstiss 

Do you, um, think you would ha have thrived better in a deaf school or are you really pleased that you went through the mainstream system? It must have been half for your parents to decide what's the right route there. That's a - 

Jodie Ounsley 

Everyone just has different experience. Everyone has different opinions and I think because I have my cochlear implant, they heavily advised my parents to go through the speech therapy rout and just sort of the options and my mom and dad were like back and forth. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know what were the right, you know, what was right for me, what was not right for me, people's opinions. And it would just, it took 'em a lot of thinking and back and forth, the pros and cons. But I think it would've just been very different experiences. So in mainstream school I heavily, you know, spoke spoken language, but, if I was in a deaf school, I might have probably more relied on BSL, British style language and just had a different group of friends.

I would probably have mixed with a lot more, you know, with the deaf community, but whereas school, at mainstream school, I was quite, I only remember being the only deaf person really, from what I remember. So it's only since I got into sport and, you know, the deaf Olympics and now with the rugby, I'm a lot more involved in the deaf community than I I ever was in school. I was very separate from that. 

Sue Anstiss 

Are you doing more with BSL? I've seen on some of your social that you were beginning to learn. I was following brother, mother, father, but is that something you'd like to do more of or you are doing more of?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, yeah. So, because obviously I've focused on spoken language in school, I didn't really, I don't wanna say I didn't have the need to learn it cause I, I obviously really wanted to learn it, but I didn't know any, I wasn't aware around the deaf community at that point. so it's certainly now when I'm going into like schools and, you know, trying to be a role model, I wanted to like make a really big effort of trying to learn it. so yeah, I've, I'm, I'm not fluent or anything like that. I'm really trying. I've, I've, I know basics now and I'm actually, I'm trying to sort of involve it in Gladiators as well. So different parts of like my signature moves and stuff like that. I've involved BSL as like, as part of my signature move as Fury. And then just little things of trying to interact with the audience, like the little I love you sign and stuff like that. So, yeah, I'm trying to sort of bring it more into my life now and the Gladiators and stuff.

Sue Anstiss 

Brilliant. I love that. I love that. I, I heard a happy story of you, copying your dad when you were young and growing up with the coal carrying,  championships, which first of all is such a Yorkshire pursuit, isn't it? But can you tell us a little bit more, uh, about that and, and there's some fabulous video of you I've seen too.

Jodie Ounsley

Yeah, so, uh, it's, it's the, the thing is it's just a norm to us. It's complete norm to us and everyone else just thinks it's bizarre. Um, and it is a Yorkshire thing, but it's literally like even now, like every year, every Easter Monday we'll go and watch it. It's a family tradition. But how it came about, my dad actually started it. And basically the World Coal carrying championships is from literally, sack of coal on your shoulders and it's from, you run like a mile and it's the first one to the maypole and it started by two mates at the pub who were drinking and something like, right, do you wanna race to the maypole with a sack of coal? And that's how it came about. And now it's this massive tradition and it's just, it's amazing how it's still going and it's even, it is only getting bigger as well.

More people come and it's such a family thing. So yeah, anyway, at this point I was around three years old. My dad told me, but I remember it like it was yesterday and I dunno how I can possibly remember that, it's so bizarre. But I just remember him running around either in the garden, I just remember him head. He was just running around training with something on his shoulders. I didn't know what was on his shoulders or why he was running around in the garden, but I just thought it was brilliant.  and then he said that, cause we had horses, like I said, I picked, he just said, I randomly picked up this, like we had little sacks of carrots, <laugh>. And I went, put the little sacks of carrots on my shoulders and then he just said, I started sprinting around the kitchen, but then I didn't stop, I just kept sprinting around and then he always says in his head, that was like a moment where I thought, wow, she's probably gonna be involved in sport or she's gonna have a love for sport when she grows up.

Sue Anstiss 

I need to add that to your bio that you are five times coal carrying…

Jodie Ounsley 

World coal carrying champion <laugh>,

Sue Anstiss 

And obviously you say sport is such a part of your life, of your family life, but you've done so much.  so track and field and martial arts and different martial arts actually. So tell us about that and, and I guess why you found those, what you loved about those sports, first of all.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, so obviously start with the <laugh>, start with the coal race, my sporting careerand then I just, athletics just appealed to me and obviously at school you always doing athletics, like you either doing sprints or sports there. So I naturally went into running, I always loved being like fast and racing with my dad and stuff. so yeah, went into like a hundred metre sprints, 200 metre sprints. Because they have like deaf championships and competitions. So I did them all the way up like when I was eight years old and all the way through school and stuff  and then I think that again, I think I was like eight world champion with that. Like those competitions, it would just, but I generally saw those competitions like I was racing in the Olympics. It was unreal. Like I remember the feeling, if I didn't win, I'd be going home crying. That's how serious I was. So yeah, I did athletics I even did Judo, karate for a little bit. But then I came across Brazilian jujitsu because my dad's come from that background. So he started, you know, as a professional MMA fighter, 

Sue Anstiss 

Oh, was he? I didn't know that.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, he’s he won multiple titles. It's so humble and he, he never speaks about this, so I have to like hype him up and tell people about this. So yeah, he was like a, an MMA fighter, you know, did brilliant at that and then he moved into Brazilian Jiujitsu. And you know, his black belt,  is like world champion European champion, British champion.

Sue Anstiss 

Wow.

Jodie Ounsley 

I mean, in our garage there's just a whole line of medals that he’s won. And yeah, like I said, it's just so humble. I don't speak about it, it's just, that's just, yeah, that's just his norm so yeah, obviously me training with him in the garage and like, you know, that's when I picked it up. And then I started competing in Brazilian jujitsu. I can't say I'm a world champion, but I'm, I managed to win British Champion anyway. But yeah, our, our Saturday nights were <laugh> again, this was the norm to us. Our Saturday nights were, cuz we had like mats down in the garage or made it into like a wrestling thing alongside the rings. 

Sue Anstiss 

And the wall, the climbing wall!

Jodie Ounsley 

Yes, we would fight in the garage and it would always end in tears because obviously a little 12 year old or whatever was not gonna beat like a world champion. But I just had in my head that I need to beat him, I need to beat him. And I never did. And obviously it'll go, it'll go really easy on me obviously, but I just, I was so angry. But anyway, we'll fight in the garage before Britain's Got Talent started. So it were like,  have a fight and then we'll get in time to have our like chicken nuggets. It will like chicken nuggets. My mom do like sort of chicken nugget, get some chicks and then we'll watch Britain's Got Talent.

Sue Anstiss 

I love it. I saw some video I might be one of your Tik Toks of him with, it might be him with the Exeter girls where he's demonstrating taking you down.  Their faces!  Like people should watch it. I should put a link in the show notes. But people are watching, your colleagues, your teammates watching it, can't believe what's going on with you.

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, what was that? But the thing is obviously I just put it on my social media just as a little funny thing, but it honestly blew up and people were not happy with it <laugh>. But I had to put some context behind it because obviously those moves he was doing in the video are all illegal in rugby <laugh>. It was showing those moves before adapting it in rugby situations. So it was like, oh for example, this is what I would do if I was in a fight and he’d do it,  a demo on me, but then it'll sort of adapt it to where's how you can use wrestling in contact areas in rugby. Obviously the funniest part, well when you were like getting me in am locks and choking me, so I was like, that's what I posted. But yeah, I, I had to put some context behind it, but the girls, it was obviously very new to the girls, but they all loved it and the fight were great.

Sue Anstiss 

I'm interviewing Molly McCann for this series too. So I wonder in terms of MMA, has that been something that you have considered as a part? You are young in your career, you got a long way to go, but is that something you might consider in the future?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, I, I've honestly said I, before I did rugby, I really wanted to do MM, but the only issue around that is getting around me implant. Cause with rugby, obviously I'm lucky that I can wear a scrum cap and kind of protect it in some way, but in MMA you can't, you can't wear like head guards and stuff, so, and it's obviously punches directly to the, so that is really difficult, difficult to get around that. And I think that's a bit too far for to try and persuade my parents to let me <laugh> to let me to do. But yeah, I, I generally always said, oh, I'd love to go in mma. I would honestly love it.  but then that's sort of when I came across rugby and it's sort of similar in some ways, the contact yeah stuff. 

Sue Anstiss 

And the Gladiators is almost like a controlled MMA. I wouldn't ever tell anyone in MMA I'd said that, but you know, there's taking similar traits of the different skills isn't it too? Yeah. Yeah. Can I, you mentioned the rugby and your, your implant and everything. So can you talk us a little bit about that process as a, you know, and how that was for your parents of your finding rugby and then allowing you to go and play something that is a, you know, a very physical contact sport?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, well the whole reason why I started it later on, because obviously I would've loved rugby when I was younger, but basically my mom and dad just didn't allow me to play a rugby. But not from a, not sort of, from a perspective of saying, no, we don't want you playing rugby. It was purely because people with cochlear implants get told not to do contact sports because of the risks. there's two risks. So one risk is like the actual sort of the processor that sits on the ear, that's just where the batteries are. That could break, I suppose, but that can be replaced. The bigger risk is because obviously I've got a magnet under my skin. Um, and then this part is a magnet as well. So it just, you know, just sticks to my head.

Um, but the risk is if I got had enough impact straight direct onto the magnet, then it could like dislodge it and obviously as you can imagine, that's a lot of complications. It could be painful and even having to have another operation and I've actually heard people from like who I know who have, you know, dislodged the magnet and had to have a reoperation, but then they've had strokes and stuff. So obviously they, they advised people not to do contact sports because why would you if there's those complications?

Sue Anstiss 

How on earth did you persuade your parents to let you play then as a parent? As a mother, I'm thinking that's just not gonna happen.

Jodie Ounsley 

I know! So obviously like, t was just always, no, you're not playing rugby. And they tried directing me in different sports and that's probably why I did so many different sports because they were just trying to keep me away from all the contact sports, but I to do fighting and you know, anyway, so, um, yeah with a rugby, how it really came to surface was my younger brother started playing. Um, and he, you know, I went to watch him train, I went to watch him like play games and just seeing him train and play, I was just like, oh that is so un unfair. You know, when it just boils your blood that you can't do something because someone's saying you can't do it. Well obviously I knew it were for the right reasons. It wasn't just saying you can't play rugby because you're a girl or something like that.

It was because of the medical reasons. So, the more I watched him, the more I watched him like training play, I just wanted to do it and I think my parents could see how much I really wanted to do it and they're hid it cause they're the most supportive parents ever. They've only ever supported me, only ever, you know, pushed me into sports, you know, cause it's something I'm good at. So for them to see me, how much it was, it was getting me down cause I was like, I feel like I could be good at this and I think they kind of gave in to be honest. So my dad, he spent weeks, being honest, just cause that's his person he is, he spent weeks reaching out to specialists like medical, like doctors and just saying, what are the risks and is there a certain way we can get around this? So then you know, we can allow my daughter to play a rugby.  and obviously they came back and saying, look, no, you shouldn't be doing this. Like you shouldn't be doing contact sports altogether. I know she wants to play rugby, but it's just not, you shouldn't be doing it. ut my dad did not give in, so anyway was like, well is there ways we can wear a a like a padded helmet or something like that? And then we came across a rugby scrum cap and he was like, oh, maybe we could try this. And then he added extra padding in it just for the first time of doing it and he was like, right, okay, number one rule if you want play a rugby off, you want a train, you have to wear your scrum cap or you're not doing it.

So that was a, that's what we agreed on. I felt fine. Yeah. So he said, right, I'll let you go down to a rugby session thinking that I'd just do this session, get outta my system and then just get bored of it and go to a different spot. So I was absolutely ecstatic that he let me. So anyway, we went down to the local sort of rugby club, which was sandal up in Wakefield. We went into their car park and I kid you not, I was that nervous. I was in, I was an absolute mess. I was like, I even turned around to my dad, I said, dad, I don't wanna do this anymore. Can we just go home now?

And <laugh> the best way possible. He turned around is like, I'm not being funny, but like all this nagging, like trying to get us to, you know, allow you to play rugby now you wanna go home. And then it obviously up he was like, look Jody, I know you're nervous but you know, you'll, you know, you'll enjoy it. You know, you'll meet new people, you'll meet the girls, you'll get to learn, you know, the laws of the game. Cause I didn't know anything about rugby at this point. I've just sort of watched it. Um, and it was like, you'll feel good afterwards that you've done it and you'd be happy that you've done it. Um, so to be honest, if be young, gimme that little pep talk, I would've been like, no, I don't wanna do it anymore. Let's just go on. I'm too nervous.

Sue Anstiss 

How old were you? How old were you then?

Jodie Ounsley 

I remember I was like 15. That's how shy I was. I was so shy, I just didn't have confidence. Um, anyway, so it was a whole thought of meeting new people and then also the thought of I don't know anything about rugby. I don't know the laws. So I think it was just a whole mixture. Um, anyway, I saw a couple of girls walking, passing a thought, right? I'd get out the car and quickly go over. And then, yeah, they were amazing. Like as soon as I sort of walked up to the fields, they were just all welcoming. They were just like, they came up to me and was like, who are you? Like, I'm so and so. And then the coaches were the same. And cuz my dad spoke to the coach on the phone previously before going to the club just to explain that I'm deaf and stuff.

So it wasn't like a shock, you know? Um, so they were prepared and stuff. But yeah, they were amazing. And then even if I didn't know anything about rugby, they were just, I remember like at, at this point I didn't even know you had to like pass the ball backwards, right, literally. So they were just amazing. Like they really broke it down and just made me feel comfortable. Um, and then I think literally the, the next weekend or so he said, oh, do you wanna be on the bench and play for us? I was like, oh what?

and oh, I went on and I tripped over my own shoelaces, <laugh> out, embarrassed, I tripped over my home, shoe fell back. I thought, what am I doing here? Got up. And then I just remember the ball popping up to me and I honestly, I just caught the ball and I just ran for my life and then I scored and I, I remember my dad was under their like sticks and my granddad, and they were just so happy for me. And I think from that moment I was like, yeah, I think I think I'm gonna enjoy rugby. And that's how it from there. Um, so yeah, I didn't forget about it. And now we're here <laugh>

Sue Anstiss 

And I've seen that footage, that video, the footage there that first try is amazing. So you obviously knew pass, backwards,  and the ruck and to just run when you got the ball cause that was, you know, it's just so powerful to see. It's lovely to hear how inclusive and welcoming the club was, you know, down in Wakefield. But have you found that generally rugby, and obviously you've will talk, you know, you've gone on to progress,  in terms of your representative stuff, but how did you found every level rugby has been inclusive for you?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, like absolutely, obviously like from sort of the deafness side of things, but even just, just being one of those sports, like, like as people keep saying, you can literally come from any background, any body shape, anything, like, it just not matter. Once you get into the rugby field, people just, they're just, just bring you in. And it's, that's what I love about rugby. Like you're just a family and people, regardless who you are, they're just accept you and you just all have a love for rugby. You all have a love for sport. but then in terms of like my deafness, I think rugby is a hundred percent like changed me as a person, like my confidence in everything.  and like I said, when I was going through school, I, I didn't, I didn't talk about it. I didn't, like I said, I, I've never even asked for like help or anything like that and I'll try and I wouldn't hide it.

But as like my processor now it's white, I would've never had a white one at school. I would've probably tucked it under my hair and stuff like that.  and it was only when I went into the England seven setup when it completely changed.  So it is funny because like obviously when I were going into the programme, like the coaches and players, they were obviously aware that I was like, a deaf person, a deaf like player going into the programme. But like they've never experienced that, especially in an elite sort of performance. And I think it was all new to them. So they were also aware before I went in and I remember my first day again, I was in a mess, but I actually went, I actually went <laugh>, I went in anyway. They were also like welcoming, you know, brought me in like their own.

But I, I remember there was such a big elephant in the room. Not one person dare I could sense they didn't dare ask about my deafness or anything like that. I think they were just, I think people in general, they're just scared of saying the wrong thing or they feel like the can’t ask me if things, where's the opposite. And it just happened that the coaches said right as like a team bonding session, we want you to do our own little presentation on yourselves just to explain your journey, who you are, your rugby career and get up in front of the team and just do this presentation. So obviously just doing a presentation was like absolute terrifying for me cause it's, you know, these are all players I've been watching on the tv like, you know, in the Olympics on the World Series.

And now I'm stood here on about presentation about myself and like, it was like Abby Brown before me and she was like telling a whole career and, and then it was like me next I thought, how am I gonna compare to that? Anyway, so I got up,  and I thought that would be a great opportunity to actually speak about my deafness, which again, I won't really do much of that. so I got all pictures from me growing up and like my levels of deafness and how I got into rugby and um, whatnot. And I kid you not from that moment on, like when we're finished and stuff, like the girls were just asking me questions and it were just like, they were, it were fine. It was nothing awkward about it, nothing like, they were nervous. I think because I just spoke so openly about it, they felt like comfortable to ask me questions.

And they went above and beyond the team and the staff just to try and make it as easy as possible being on the pitch and stuff. For example, like they would mic me up  and we had like a drone filming our training.

So basically they'd micd me up and there were like another guy filming me on a different camera, just my movements. So I was miced up to this separate camera and then basically we did that to see what the picture was, what everyone else was doing, but then to us also see what I'm hearing or not hearing in that situation. So it was like amazing to see what like players could be hearing in that situation or seeing, but then I'm in that same situation of what I'm maybe not hearing and basically how we cm make it easier with communication and stuff. And back of footage, it was amazing. Like it shocked me how much the players and staff generally wanted to help me and make it easier on the field and stuff. So from that moment on that just grew my confidence and be more up and about in like, this is where I struggled, this is what could help and things like that. So it was pretty special.

Sue Anstiss 

That's amazing, isn't it? And I think it's such an important message of the, ‘you are feeling confident to share, to enable people to feel braver to ask the questions’ because it's exactly that. I think I'm, I feel like exactly the same, it's almost that you're a bit, I don't wanna make you uncomfortable, you don't wanna ask things but you, but people want to know then they can, you know, behave differently. And like, you've obviously moved on then to do so much on social media and your TikTok and you know, I think the 5 million views of your videos of 130,000 people following you. Did that come from that almost your beginning to share more generally with people, your story around the challenges you faced, but also explaining to people, uh, what it means to you in your day-to-day life?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, like that's the whole reason why I think, I think it was because I generally saw the impact on myself more, more than like, just by me actually speaking openly about it built my confidence as well as obviously of a, like raising awareness for other people to understand better because that's all I've found is people just generally have a bit of a lack of awareness and that's all it is. Like people not being arrogant or anything like that, they just probably don't know or you know, how to act or they just don't, like, especially if you hadn't met a deaf person before, you just, you just have no idea and that's natural. I think it would literally probably just we’d come out a lockdown and I thought, oh right, this were, I was not on  TikTok. Everyone were dancing on TikTok. So I was like, oh, 

so I downloaded it and me and mom, me and my mom tried to do this TikTok, TikTok dance route and obviously we were awful, but then I actually remember sort of seeing other videos that were nothing to do with dancing. So I thought, all right, do people actually use this for business and stuff? And like, you know, different thing. So I thought, all right, maybe I could do a video just on a deaf awareness video and just see how it is and I think I literally put one video on of me just taking the implant off saying, oh this is my cochlear implant if I take it off, you know, I can't hear any sound, blah, blah, blah. And that all it was, and that completely blew up. And the feedback I got from it was amazing.

Just sort of people asking the questions and feeling like they can ask me the questions. Um, and just like most of the parents, we on deaf kids saying, oh this is so good to, you know, have this information. You know, cause most of, most of my following are actually either teachers or parents who, with kids who are like literally babies and they're deciding whether to have a cochlear implant or they don’t know what your life could look like with a cochlear implant. And me just doing these little videos is giving, well, as in their words, giving them reassurance,  and sort of just giving them that confidence to go with that decision and stuff. So yeah, like the more I've done it and the more feedback I've seen from people, it's, it's only done wonders for myself, but most importantly I just wanna help other people. So it's, it's crazy. but yeah, just what a little video can do and yeah.

Sue Anstiss 

And how does that feel, how do you feel to know, be getting that feedback and knowing you are having, and I guess both for the deaf community, but just more broadly in society to be raised awareness too?

Jodie Ounsley 

I mean, to me it's bizarre. Like I still don't get my head around it. To me, I'm just, you know, in my head I'm, I'm a girl who loves rugby, I'm playing rugby. I'm a girl who's, you know, a little bit deaf, but you know, I just like play rugbyand I have a love for that. But then there's also a big part of me that I've just, I've always wanted to help people no matter what the situation. I just love to help people. I love to be a good person. I love just being, you know, just spread positive energy basically.  so in a way that I can do that, it's, it's bizarre. Cause I feel like, and just the feedback. Even the other day I got it was, it re I literally npw startcrying. This is how much it's touched me.

So when, last year when the seven girls had an opportunity to play at Twickenham, w e played our games and then we sort of went round Twickenham, obviously signing autographs and stuff. And then there was a young girl and a young boy who was shouting me or something and the both our cochlear implants and then they were sort of saying, oh, it's so good that you've got a cochlear implant. We are matching. It's really cool that we're matching. And oh, it really touched my heart. I was honestly, I was like an emotional wreck <laugh>. Anyway, so we were just talking and I was like, oh, do you play a rugby? And she was like, no, I don't play a rugby because of my cochlear implant. And I was like, all right, well I've been playing, obviously if you get like a little scrum cap we can be matching with the scrum caps as well.

So anyway, she were lovely. She's absolutely a sweetheart. And then, um, left and then literally, so a year on literally yes. Well like two days ago or something, I got a message,  from the parents, from her dad showing a picture of us together. Cause we had a picture together when I was signing an autograph and he said something like, oh, I hope you remember this photo. This is my daughter. she's now playing rugby and she's absolutely loving every minute. And then he sent me the photo of her playing rugby. She looked savage and she had like this multicoloured scrum cap. And honestly I got goosebumps when I watched it cause I just, I just thought that's crazy. Like, I don't, I'm just doing what I love doing. I'm just doing rugby. I'm, you know, I'm just trying to be a good person and then when I get messages like that, I just can't get me head around it. And it just, it just makes your heart warm. That's all I can say.

Sue Anstiss 

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and from all the content you share, I love your parents from all the content you share, but it's clearly clear that that support and their support's been so important to you. So how did they react when they heard that you were listed in the BBC Women's Hour Power list for the women in the sport?

Jodie Ounsley 

Yeah, they were so, they were so of, for me, like they are literally my biggest, biggest supporters ever. Like, I generally think without my parents, I, I wouldn't, I wouldn't be the person I am today a hundred percent. They've just, they've done nothing but support me but not just support me. They've, cause obviously with all my confidence and struggling my confidence and quite a lot of self-doubt and stuff like that, they have always been like, no, Jodie, you know, snap out of that, you're brilliant. You can't do it and just constantly having my back and yeah, so, um, they're, they're amazing. And even now they're just like, my mom is literally my best friend and I'm not even a, I'm not even ashamed of admitting it. We're just like, everyone thinks we're sisters, just we how we're <laugh>. So, yeah, they're, they're brilliant.

Like my dad obviously through, you know, growing up, being in all the sport, you know, doing the climbing wall for me, setting up rings, just all these things is just because he's a brilliant parent. He's a brilliant person and just wants to support me. And then obviously my mom, she was the one who took me to rehab and speech therapy every day during the week. And she even had to step away from her job just to spend more time with her. She could do, you know, speech therapy with me and more repetition cause obviously the more repetition, the better your speech and just things like that. And you know, she's such a hardworking person. She's like, she's got such a pure heart and the kindest person ever. And I literally always think if I'm like the half the person my mom is, then I'm all right. So that's all I think anyway.

Sue Anstiss 

Oh, that's so lovely. So lovely to hear. Um, your honorary president of UK Deaf Sport and Patron of the Elizabeth Foundation, a UK charity for young deaf children. So why are, are those roles so important to you as well? Cause that's a lot to take on with everything else that you are doing too.

Jodie Ounsley 

Well with the Elizabeth Foundation, it's such like something so close to my heart because obviously that's the charity where obviously I'm saying all about the speech therapy and  the rehab, that's where I did all the speech therapy. Oh wow. Rehab. so I started with them when I was, I was about three months old, so even before I got me a Cochlear implant, and they were amazing, like absolutely amazing people, what they do. And just not even just for myself and just what they do for the parents, you know, giving them the support, giving them, you know, just the reassurance and just feel like in they're not on their own in the situation and stuff like that. Then they basically asked me to be patron and I were like, obviously who would turn that down? So, um, it, it just meant so much and yeah, they're just brilliant. And the same with UK deaf spotlight, obviously going through the deaf Olympics and just sport in general, I'm, I'm so passionate about not just like encouraging, you know, deaf kids getting into rugby, but sport in general. So yeah, two things I'm very passionate about. So obviously it's quite challenging to juggle it all, but obviously when you're passionate about something, you know, it's something you just wanna do.  

Sue Anstiss 

It's lovely. It's lovely to hear your, your kind of passion and enthusiasm for that whole space too. 

Finally I'd be really interested to know, I know you talked about kind of deafness as your superpower and you kind of do feel it's something that has enabled you to go and do other things. So how do you feel it has made you stronger as a, as an individual, as an athlete and as a, as a person too?

Jodie Ounsley 

I have said it's like a, a superpower, but I don't want people to think, oh, it's, it's all amazing. And it's, it's, the way I see it as a superpower is, you know, it is a daily struggle. You know, it is challenging on a daily basis, but it's allowed me to think outside a box and, you know, adapt and think of different ways to get things done. So in some ways, like, because I'm deaf, I'm a lot more visual. So on the rugby field, that's amazing because coaches just want you to be more visual and see the space. So I, I think it's allowed me to, you know, just adapt and think of solutions and work harder in some aspects, I suppose. And just, you know, be more confident, be more outgoing with people, asking for help and just all these things. If I wasn't deaf, I don't think I would've been the person I am today. So yeah, in that context, that's why I think it's a superpower and it's obviously you're different. That's all I'm saying. But that's not a bad thing. That's a, it's a good thing and you've gotta embrace it, I suppose.

Sue Anstiss 

And, in terms of what we can all do to better understand your world and make sport more inclusive for everyone, if you had to leave with some kind of tips or advice of what you'd like to see, from your experience, what would that be?

Jodie Ounsley 

I literally would just say, don't be afraid to ask. Like if someone came up to me and if they said something like, oh, is there any way we can make things a bit easier on the field? Or something like that, or is there anything you prefer just to make it that bit easier? I think, oh, that's, that's really good of them to ask that because normally people, like I said, be too scared to even say anything or just avoid it I just advise people to be about more like open minded and not afraid just to speak about it, cause that's what we need to do, just speak about it. 

Sue Anstiss 

What an amazing woman Jodie is. I can't wait to see her on Gladiators later this year. 

Head over to fearlesswomen.co.uk to find previous episodes where I was spoken to other incredible rugby legends, including Sarah Hunter, Maggie Alphonsi, Sue Day, Shaunagh Brown, Emma Mitchell, and Karen Finley. 

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