Inspiring the next generation with Jodie Ounsley

Inspiring the next generation with Jodie Ounsley

Imagine the pressure of playing for England, now imagine doing it without being able to hear a thing. That is exactly what England star Jodie Ounsley had to do at an England 7’s tournament in Scotland. On a scorching summer day, thinking nothing of it, Jodie grabbed her water bottle and poured its entire contents over her head, in effort to cool herself down. Suddenly, everything went quiet. She had completely forgotten about her cochlear implant, a small electronic device in her ear that helps her to hear. Smirking about it whilst talking to me on the call, Ounsley remarked: “Obviously my implant is electronic, and it is not waterproof. I was stuck at a sevens tournament, and I couldn’t hear a thing.”
The England squad tried everything to get it to work, sitting on the side lines taking the device apart, even attempting to soak it in rice – nothing worked. Most people would be deterred from stepping back on the pitch. Trust me, the last place you would want to be whilst not being able to hear anything is a rugby pitch, but Jodie did not let this stop her. She took it in her stride and played the remaining two matches like a boss!

“It was so weird, as daft as it sounds, I couldn’t hear the slap of the ball hitting my hands, so it didn’t feel as if I was catching it. I couldn’t hear my feet hitting the ground as I ran, it felt like I was losing my rhythm.”

She continued to say: “I was stressed and frustrated that I couldn’t hear what people were saying on the pitch. It can almost be quite isolating as you are in your own little world. People are trying to speak to you, but you literally can’t communicate with them.” “Especially on the rugby pitch, communication is so important. Looking back on it now, I do laugh at the whole situation.” It is this experience, amongst others, that has inspired Ounsley to create Not Just Anyone – a storytelling platform made specifically to inspire the next generation. The first story to feature on the site focuses on Jodie’s life experiences. The emotive video shows the difficulties Jodie has faced, whilst also explaining how through hard work and determination, she was able to overcome these challenges to become the first female deaf rugby player to be selected for England. The power of story telling in women’s sport can not be underestimated. It is an essential tool which, when used correctly, can be a powerful means to develop the game. Through her work with Not Just Anyone, Jodie is encouraging other people to come forward and share their own story, and interestingly the platform is not limited to sports people alone. She envisions the platform evolving into a community for everyone, she wants it to expand further than the sports world, inspiring anyone who needs it. Her focus remains on inspiring the next generation, often working with deaf children in schools around the country. Even throughout the pandemic, Jodie was continuing her work on Zoom, sharing her experiences, and encouraging other young children to overcome the challenges that they may face. Speaking exclusively to GRC, Jodie explained: “I realised there are so many young kids, especially young deaf children, who don’t have any relatable role models. They don’t have some one to look up to and I wanted to change that.” The sevens player has big aspirations for the future of NJA, she sees the platform as growing into an inspirational community that welcomes everyone, no matter what their background. She hopes in time that the platform can offer seminars and help bring likeminded people together. The idea for Not Just Anyone came to her on a flight to New Zealand. Whilst her teammates were catching up on some well-earned sleep, she was busy reading. Instantly, a relatable paragraph jumped out at her. She scrounged around and grabbed the closest thing she could find to start writing notes, and before she knew it, she came up with the idea for NJA. Ever since being a child, Jodie explained she had a fire inside of her to make a real difference in the world. She wanted to prove to any who may have doubted her that she could be successful. Little did she know that those scrappy notes on the back of a piece of paper would come together to create something special. The work Jodie is doing to inspire the next generation is fantastic, she is motivating others to be curious and push themselves beyond comfort with the knowledge that anything is possible. The value of relatable role models for the younger generation is huge. It just takes one person, like Jodie, to share their story to spark inspiration and real change in others. The best part about this is inspiring others is contagious, in all the right ways. If you become inspired by other people, chances are you will want to use that to move forward and help others. From first-hand experience I have witnessed this. I created a TikTok account dedicated to encouraging young girls to get involved with rugby. I can say through experience that the best thing, the thing that makes me smile from ear to ear, is learning that girls have felt empowered and encouraged to go and pick up a rugby ball at their local club as a result of watching my content. Believe me when I say, nothing feels better than inspiring other people to do the thing you love, so I can personally understand why Jodie is on her mission to do exactly the same thing. It only takes one person to take a stand and create a tidal wave of positive change for the next generation. So, the question I will leave you with is this: how will you make a difference today?

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