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Sight loss no barrier to rugby with new Ospreys sessions

A mum with sight loss has taken on a sports challenge with a difference, thanks to a new initiative from Ospreys Community Foundation.

Mona Jethwa, 36, from Neath, stepped onto the pitch at Llandarcy Academy of Sports on 4th July to try her hand at Visually Impaired (VI) rugby for the first time.

Mona was diagnosed with keratoconus and dry eye syndrome when she was 18, and her sight continued to deteriorate through her twenties.

“I used to play a lot of ball sports when I was younger, and won lots of trophies and medals in tennis, football, rounders, cricket and badminton,” she said.

“But my condition means that I get double and sometimes triple vision, so I struggle to judge distances. The only time I know a ball is coming towards me is when it’s already smacked me in the face!”

Mona stopped playing sports for over a decade but was tempted back onto the field when Ospreys Community Foundation launched its VI rugby team this summer, supported by sight loss charity RNIB Cymru.

The weekly sessions are suitable for people with sight loss over the age of 17. The team welcomes all ability levels and genders, with training provided by professional Welsh Rugby Union coaches.

“I was very nervous before stepping onto the pitch, and had no idea what to expect,” said Mona. “But all my fears melted away when I met the coaches, who were absolutely amazing and put me at ease immediately.

“They showed us the core principles of rugby and strategic play, and used audible signals to let us know where the ball was. I feel like I learnt so much in such a short space of time. I even scored my first ever try! I loved every minute and can’t wait to get back onto the pitch.”

Clive Owen, Club and Events Participation Lead for Ospreys in the Community, said:

“Our aim is to give people with sight loss in the region a chance to play and reconnect with the game of rugby. The sessions are fun, active and a great way to socialise.

“We encourage anyone with sight loss to come along and join in themselves, whether you have played rugby before or just want to experience a new sport, our coaches will tailor sessions to each of our users abilities underpinning fun and enjoyment to everything we do.”

Nathan Owen, External Affairs Manager for RNIB Cymru said:

“Mona’s story shows that sight loss is no barrier to getting involved in sports. Rugby is our national game and that means it is for everyone. We’re delighted to see the VI code growing all over Wales, with the support of clubs like the Ospreys and the Welsh Rugby Union. Rugby is a game for all shapes, sizes and abilities and I’d encourage everyone to give it a go.”