Mat Gilbert is a professional rugby player in the UK. He’s been playing rugby since he was just seven years old, and now he is playing as a flanker for Bath Rugby in the Aviva Premiership. But Mat is not just a great athlete—he is also the only Deaf professional athlete in the UK!
Mat’s family realized he had hearing loss when he was five years old, but Mat had already found his own ways of communicating by. He taught himself to lip read, and his older brother was a big help to him, too. Mat’s family found out he had a genetic fault, which meant his hearing loss would get worse as he grew up.
Mat’s parents sent him to a mainstream school, and Mat says he is glad they did. A teaching assistant would come in once a week to make sure he was keeping up, and Mat did just fine. Then he discovered Rugby, and he started doing even better!
The first time Mat played rugby, he realized he was very good. Mat says, “Well, I was the biggest kid at the school. I just picked the ball up and ran with it.” He played the game up through college, and even admits he used his deafness to try to get around the rules.
“When I was young,” Mat recalls, “I used to say to the referee: ‘Oh by the way ref, I’m hard of hearing—I might not be able to hear you on the pitch when you’re calling out to me when I’m infringing. But I haven’t done it since I played professional, because Nigel Owens, a very famous referee, told me off one day. He said: ‘Go away, you are a professional, you know the rules.’”
Now, Mat communicates with his teammates by lip reading and with a hearing aid he wears under his helmet. His teammates all wear a special microphone, called the Phonak Roger Pen, which sends sound to Mat’s hearing aid and helps him hear the calls. It’s all about teamwork, and Mat’s team is lucky to have him!
Check out a video about Mat and his special microphone pen here!