Jodie Ounsley, star of Gladiators, has spoken out about becoming the first deaf contestant.
The 22-year-old will play Fury in the BBC reboot and will compete in the arena against a new generation of superhumans, including the UK’s fittest man and a James Bond actor.
They’ll face the ultimate test of speed and power, but professional rugby player Jodie has already smashed down barriers before even entering the stadium.
Jodie was the youngest person in the UK to receive a cochlear implant before her first birthday, which she currently wears beneath a scrum hat when playing rugby.
The former England Women’s Rugby Sevens player, who was named Deaf Sports Personality of the Year in 2020 and is the Honorary President of UK Deaf Sport, has now spoken out about her experience on the show and clarified a major misconception about her time in the competition and participating in the games.
‘In terms of the physical games, they didn’t need to be adapted,’ Fury explained.
She continued: ‘It was more like the visuals, and obviously the background noise, and starting the games with whistles and stuff like that.
‘It was just little things, people think you have to do massive adjustments but it’s really not.’
She added: ‘Even the Gladiators in the team were being so open and willing to learn and just asked me questions where I needed that extra bit of support.
‘It was just little things here and there and everyone was honestly amazing, I was very grateful for that.’
Jodie reported that she received touching comments from fans and parents of deaf children, in addition to her colleagues’ support.
She said: ‘Even during filming, the messages I got were really heartfelt, and even young girls having the same Fury hairstyles, it was so cool to see that.’
Recalling the messages from parents, she added: ‘That sort of thing made me realise, “Wow, this is pretty special.”
‘I’m just out there being Fury and just focused on the challenges, but then to see that it’s maybe having an impact on younger kids, that stuff is mind blowing to me, it’s really special it can do that.’
One family even shared how much Fury was a ‘sense of hope’ to them, after their child was going through having cochlear implants.
She said: ‘I remember one from a parent and she was just saying that they were worried about their kid going through having cochlear implants.
‘They didn’t know what her life would look like and they happened to come to the show because they were a massive fan of Gladiators anyway, and when they saw Fury the force, she’s powerful, a bit of a badass, and when they found out I was deaf as well they said, “Oh you’ve given us a sense of hope that our daughter’s got a future ahead of her.”
‘It hit me right in the heart, it was so heartwarming.’
Fury is not only the first deaf Gladiator, but she also has a unique connection to the spectacle as the daughter of an ex-contender.
Reflecting on the ‘special opportunity’ after her dad’s input in the original series, she said: ‘Obviously in my head I remember watching my dad and how special that was was a young kid, because I honestly remember it like it was yesterday.
‘But this time around it was beyond and it was pretty special to have my dad there, my family there, my grandparents, it was just amazing to have him there and backing me all the way. I won’t forget that to be honest.’
After growing up watching the original series, which ran from 1992, she added: ‘I never thought this opportunity would come around so now to be a Gladiator, it’s pretty special.
‘To go and watch my dad and watch the show and then to be here, I’m just soaking it all up and being the best person I can be and the best Gladiator I can be.’
Gladiators returns to the BBC and iPlayer on Saturday, January 13, at 5.50pm.