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Mona’s remarkable rugby experience with Ospreys

Mona Jethwa, RNIB’s Third Sector Stakeholder Engagement Manager, tried her hand at visually impaired (VI) rugby with Ospreys newest community rugby scheme in Wales.

Mona and Joe Gage from the Osprey's Club smiling at the camera on the rugby pitch.

Though I live in the heartland of Welsh rugby, I felt like the only person in the country who hadn't experienced the thrill of the game.

As a teenager, I played a lot of team sports. I especially loved basketball and netball. However, I was diagnosed with keratoconus and dry eye syndrome aged 18, and my sight deteriorated through my twenties. Traditional ball sports became a challenge and I stopped playing, but I always yearned to rediscover that sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Then I stumbled upon an invitation that could change everything. Ospreys, the famous Welsh rugby club, are pioneering an inclusive VI Rugby training program. It is conveniently located just minutes away from my home, so I thought, ‘why not? Let’s give it a go!’

"That’s the beauty of participating in sport; the sense of achievement, the shared triumphs, and so much fun"

Mona Jethwa

I was joined by my friend Sally, a rugby enthusiast deeply involved in the local scene, and my colleague Gareth, a seasoned VI rugby player with Cardiff Rugby. I was told that, as the training hub of the esteemed Ospreys, the pitch at Llandarcy was hallowed ground.

I was greeted on the pitch by Joe Gage, Ospreys’ Club Engagement Coordinator. His enthusiasm put my nerves at ease, reassuring me that I was a valued member of this inclusive rugby family. Fears of being judged for my fitness level or body shape melted away. I had no idea that I was about to embark on a journey that would change my own perceptions and ignite a newfound love for the game.

The coaches introduced me to the core principles of rugby. At times I fumbled and confused rugby with netball - once I had the ball I froze and tried to pass the ball forward, which is not something you do in rugby! The coaches never faltered in their encouragement and understanding. With their support, I stumbled, I learned, and I found my footing in this uncharted territory.

A commitment to inclusivity was at the core of the training session. The coaches used audible signals, shouting ‘left’ or ‘right’ and clapping loudly to help us to understand the movement and position of the ball. And their dedication didn't end there. The coaches donned sim specs, attempting to understand the visual impairments we faced.

Mona playing rugby at a VI rugby session in West Wales.

Amidst the laughter, I scored my first-ever try! It was a personal victory that resonated far beyond the rugby field because less than an hour before, I didn’t even know what a try was!

That’s the beauty of participating in sport, and what I missed when I wasn’t playing; the sense of achievement, the shared triumphs, and so much fun.

What was your experience like?

My first rugby experience as someone with sight loss has been transformational. It has helped me to shatter the self-imposed limitations that held me back from embracing sports. Being welcomed into this inclusive space provided the catalyst for rediscovering my inner strength, resilience, and unyielding spirit.

I hope my experience encourages others whose doubts have overshadowed their potential to See Sport Differently. There really is a sport out there for everyone.