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Deaf Rugby Player: “I’ve never let hearing loss be a barrier in my dreams”

I’ve never let my hearing loss be a barrier in my dreams. Since I was a teenager, my goal was to be an athlete, and now as the UK’s only Deaf professional rugby player, I’ve accomplished that, but not without some help along the way. 

I have profound, bi-lateral sensorineural hearing loss, which has deteriorated since the first registered test I had in 1991 as a five-year-old, and have worn hearing aids ever since. 

I was educated at two mainstream boarding schools, Bilton Grange Prep School and the Duke of York’s Royal Military School. After completing my A levels, in Physical Education, Business Studies, IT and General Studies, I attended Hartpury College to study a degree in Sports Coaching and Conditioning, followed by a Post Graduate Certificate in Coaching Science. 

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I never felt out of place during my education. I had lot of friends and achieved reasonable results for the effort I put in. I never felt that my hearing loss was a contributing factor for any results that were below expectations. As my school reports would always say, ‘If only Mat put in the same amount of effort in the classroom as he does on the sports field he would achieve more academically’. Maybe I was born to be outside and be a sportsman.

This was my dream.

Was this realistic, you may ask? Did I have any pedigree? Had I been scouted, or was I in an academy? No, No, No. I had failed to make the county selection at 16-years-old. I was playing for my school first XV and for my local club under 17 side, Dover RFC.

Still, I had the desire and ambition to become a professional athlete.

FB_IMG_1464269523128When I was 18, I finally made the county squad, a sign that I was going in the right direction. But from that, I faced another setback when I didn’t make the London and South East region squad. At 18, I wasn’t considered good enough to be part of the top 40 school boy players in the region. 

If you haven’t made it as an 18-year-old, you’ll never make it…. so they say. Especially when you consider that at 18 years old, George North was making his debut for Wales against South Africa.

But still, I never gave up, and I never let having a hearing loss be a barrier to my dreams.

After leaving a very good sporting university, I obtained a semi professional contract in Italy, followed at age 24 with my first professional contract with Llanelli Scarlets in Wales. Since then, I have played for Mogliano Rugby in Italy, and then for Bath Rugby and Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership.

Being deaf and playing any sport, has its challenges, let alone playing a contact sport at professional level. Rugby is a high impact, fast moving sport that requires lots of communication among team mates, and the officials. 

So you may wonder, how do I cope? How do my hearing aids cope?

When I play rugby, I wear a head guard. This not only helps protects my head and my ears, it also keeps the hearing aids in and in place behind my ear. I have found that my Phonak hearing aids are fairly robust, and by wearing soft silicone moulds I can honestly say as a professional player in a contract sport I have never had any pains from wearing my hearing aids.  

However, my hearing aids do occasionally get sweaty and go quiet, but I have found that wrapping them in a bit of plastic gives them extra protection, which allows them to survive through 80 minutes of rugby through whatever conditions, the sweltering sun or the pouring rain. And more often or not in England, its in the pouring rain!

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Off the rugby pitch, I am also an Ambassador for Action of Hearing Loss, the largest deaf charity in the UK. I support the work they do in the UK with people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or suffer from tinnitus. I try to use my profile as an athlete to help at fundraising events and promote that being deaf shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving what you want in life, and achieving your dreams. 

As I have now turned 30, I have a few more years left in the professional game, but I hope in the future to be able to continue my community work, especially deaf children, and empower them through sport. Action on Hearing has given me a small insight into the deaf community, something I have never really been part of because I attended mainstream school. 

I hope that being part of the Hearing Like Me community will give me more of insights into the deaf community, and how other deaf people live and cope with the daily challenges we face. And in return, I hope to share my views on life and various situations that will be of interest to all of you.

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