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Winnie Cheung — rugby player, captain and coach — on not letting a hearing impairment be a barrier to playing sports

Winnie started playing rugby in 2009, when the Hong Kong Rugby Union organized a “Learn English Through Rugby” program at the Chun Tok School, which she was attending at the time.  When she first started playing rugby, Winnie wasn’t that convinced by the sport; it was only after playing for a while that she developed a love for it.

Now, Winnie is the first ever hearing impaired rugby coach in Hong Kong and the only hearing impaired capable of playing in the local league. She plays forward for Kowloon RFC, enjoys the Rugby Sevens and is trying out for the Hong Kong National Team.

Photo by Takumi Photography

Can you share with us what your experience as a hearing-impaired athlete has been?

Learning to play rugby as a hearing impaired athlete of course comes with its challenges. When I’m playing on the field I cannot wear my hearing aid so often I cannot hear what the coaches or my teammates are saying on and off the pitch. I need to be watching their mouths as they speak and also be watching their movements; this of course is not easy when we’re running around. Because of this, I also find that I learn slower compared to some of my peers who are not hearing impaired. Over the years though, I’ve also learned how to better position myself so I can see their faces.

One time, we were playing a match and a referee blew his whistle. I couldn’t hear of course, and didn’t take the appropriate action and he penalized us. At first when I explained to him that I couldn’t hear, he thought I was pretending and I had to tell him that I’m hearing impaired.

I was also quite scared when I first started learning. I didn’t think I could do it; I thought not being able to hear would be a significant barrier. But now I understand that I simply needed time and patience, and to rely more on my eyes rather than my ears.

What have you gained from playing rugby?

Before I played, I had no goals and no confidence. After I learned how to catch, how to throw, and how to run, I started to feel a sense of accomplishment and a big sense of satisfaction. That boosted my confidence. It’s a large reason why I still play rugby today.

Playing as a hearing impaired person has also toughened my mental fortitude. When I can’t hear what’s being said on the field, it’s easy to give up, but I don’t want to let this define who I am as a player. I don’t want people to think that hearing impaired people cannot play rugby or other sports. We can!

I have also learned that if you do the best that you can on the rugby field, then others will respect you as a players regardless of your circumstances.

How did your family react when you told them you wanted to play rugby?

My mother did not approve and I fought with her often. She worried about me; she didn’t want me to get hurt because I couldn’t hear. Over time though, her attitude has changed, when I demonstrated how much I like playing, and how I am still okay even after playing so many years.

Photo by Takumi Photography

How did you get into coaching?

The HKRU invited me to assist in their program for hearing impaired athletes, so now I am an assistant coach and learning to become a full coach. I believe I have an advantage in this situation because I have the personal experience; I know what it’s like to learn as a hearing impaired athlete. This makes me more detail oriented for my team and I can better understand their needs and what they are going through.

Through coaching I have to learn to care more about the team, to be happy, and to not be so selfish. I also have to learn not to care about faults so much

What are your coaching and playing aspirations?

I really hope I can use my experience to influence and inspire more hearing impaired athletes to play sports and rugby. I hope one day to play for Hong Kong.

Photo: Takumi Photography

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