England call for hearing-impaired West Norfolk rugby player Jake Huggett
- Credit: Ian Burt
Just like his team-mates, Jake Huggett always goes through the same meticulous pre-game routine.
But while they are limbering up ahead of kick-off the 19-year-old has to disappear from the dressing room to ensure he is also ready for the action. For that to happen he needs to take a vital trip to see the referee.
At first glance the official would see little reason to change his approach towards taking control of a match including Huggett. Yet he would soon realise that the strapping second row needs some extra help to get through the game.
The Heacham-based player is 70 decibels (db) deaf and only has about 30pc of hearing left in both ears. Yet that hasn't been enough to stop him from going on to play the game he loves at West Norfolk.
Huggett, who competes alongside non-deaf players on a regular basis, said: 'I was born hard of hearing. I had five sets of gromits between the ages of two and 10. I was told I would grow into my ears, so they would naturally develop, but they never did.
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'I've always suffered from bad hearing and it's not a fun thing to deal with. My average TV volume is 45 or 50 and it's deafening to people. I have no control of the volume of my voice. So I shout when I whisper and I whisper when I shout. Hearing aids really do the world for people that are hard of hearing.
'I didn't want to not play rugby though after falling in love with it in 2007. So I still do. We do things differently in some aspects. I do a lot of work with Jamie (Williamson, captain) and the team at training and he understands what's going on. I'm more visual in the game probably than other people because I have to rely on my other senses to do the work for me.
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'I don't hear line-out calls so normally I have somebody next to me sign. I've taught them what they need to know, so they'll help me through that. We adapt and the lads have been really supportive.'
That help and patience from those at Gatehouse Lane, including head coach Lee Parry and manager Nigel Richardson, has enabled Huggett to feel no different to those who he lines up alongside. He plays by the same rules, suffers the same sort of injuries – which included a recent concussion which left him sidelined for a month – and has the same hopes.
'I just want to become a regular in the first-team,' said the Heacham-based second row, who currently removes his hearing aids to play but will have to keep them in soon as the sound levels he can pick up continues to diminish with age.
'I forget about my lack of hearing. I just play the game I play. To be honest I don't really think about it. It's my life. It's like going to work. I answer phones for a living (at CITB in Bircham Newton) and I have a specialist headset. I have to adapt.
'People may see I'm deaf, maybe they won't, because I don't give it away. If I was to stand there signing they'd think 'He's a deaf guy, he's got a different way of playing'. But I don't, I just get on with it like everybody else does.'
That driven and determined approach to not let his hearing difficulties affect his life has seen the inspirational one-time Holt junior earn international honours.
Huggett will make his England Deaf debut, where all players have an average of at least 25db hearing loss, in Italy on October 31. Line-outs and scrums will be signed in the match by a referee who still applies the same rules as traditional rugby.
Huggett, who has been at West for six years in two spells, added: 'It's a different feeling playing for the deaf side. It's amazing. It's because you're not alone. I don't feel left out at West Norfolk, but other people don't have the same sort of hold backs in the respect that I can't hear as well.
'You'll find some very, very good rugby players on our England team. When you see the lads that are signing constantly because they're profound (totally deaf) it's inspiring. They are so much more visual than I am. They're on a different level and they really do play a great game of rugby.
'There was no feeling like it. It's inspiring to put a West Norfolk shirt on because you think about the hundreds before you.
'When you put the Red Rose on it's different. You've actually got the whole country behind you. It's unbelievable.'
Have you got an inspirational sports story to tell? Contact Gavin Caney on 01553 778683 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org