IT IS not every day that a teenager from Dewsbury receives a parliamentary invite to the House of Lords, but Jodie Ounsley has already proved that she is no ordinary teenager.
Born prematurely, Jodie faced a battle to survive, with the antibiotics used to treat her causing profound deafness in both ears.
Thornhill-based Jodie was also fitted with a cochlear implant shortly after her first birthday.
But that has not stopped her from achieving World and British titles across various sports as she continues to defy the odds.
The sprinter qualified for the Great Britain Deaflympics team at the age of 15 and made the semi-finals of both the 100m and 200m, despite being one of the youngest athletes at the games held this July in Samsun, Turkey.
Jodie’s invite to the House of Lords was to celebrate the success of the GB Deaflympics team, who won nine gold medals.
The 16-year-old is also a five-time junior World Champion in coal carrying, a British Brazilian jiu jitsu champion, and has played representative rugby union.
She only started playing rugby when she turned 14 and within two seasons of taking up the sport the GB athlete had represented both her county and country.
“I’d wanted to get into rugby for years but my Dad wasn’t keen on the idea, when my younger brother started I was adamant I wanted to try as well,” said Jodie.
“I went down to Sandal RUFC and spoke to the women’s head coach Andy Bevan, I was very nervous but the club were very welcoming and helpful.
“I was invited down to a game and ended up playing as a substitute with a promise that I would come on for at least the last five minutes.
“My time came and I went on the wing, it looked like I wasn’t going to get any action but then the ball popped up to me, I took it in my own half stepped around a few players and then used my pace to run all the way to score a try.
“I was hooked – there was no turning back from there.”
Since her debut for Sandal Jodie has gone on to play for Yorkshire U-15s, U-18s, England North 7s and has recently been named in the RFU England U-18 squad.
The Yorkshire winger is currently part of an elite sports training program at Loughborough College where she trains and studies during the week and travels home to Dewsbury on the weekends.
Jodie hopes her story can help to inspire other athletes who may feel held back by their disability.
She said: “There are disadvantages to being profoundly deaf but I’ve never known any different so I just get on with it, having a disability should not put you off trying anything or chasing your dreams.
“I always try to look for the positives in my personal circumstances, being deaf on the rugby pitch can be a disadvantage but I haven’t let being deaf hold me back.
“Rugby is a team sport and you need to communicate with your team mates, all my teammates and coaches have been great with me.
“I have missed the whistle the odd time and run the length of the field unopposed to score only to discover everyone else had stopped.
“Being deaf has brought me some benefits in rugby because I don’t rely on hearing I always play with my head up, this helps me when looking for my teammates and any spaces to attack, it’s worked well for me so far.”
With the women’s game growing Jodie feels it is a great time for more girls to get into rugby.
She said: “It’s a perfect time for women to get into rugby, England were world champions until very recently, rugby 7s is now an Olympic sport and the new women’s Premiership league has just started.
“There is a lot of work to do but I am now seriously looking for a career as a professional athlete in rugby.
“My aim is to compete in the Olympics at rugby 7s, to play for England women’s elite team in a World Cup and to continue with my athletics for Deaflympics GB.”
The Dewsbury athlete will represent Great Britain at the European Indoor Deaf Athletics Championships next March.
In April she will travel to Sydney for the Deaf Rugby 7s Championships.
A lot of Jodie’s competitions are unfunded and she even works part time to raise money.
She added: “I am always looking for sponsorship to help fund my training and competing. I am living away from home at Loughbourogh to get the best training possible.
“It’s like going to university two years early but I’m not entitled to any student loans because I’m too young, it all has to be self-funded.
“Some of the events I’m selected for such as representing England at the World Deaf 7s in Australia are not funded, so I am fund raising to get myself there.”