18 Mar 2021

Mary Cheng was born deaf, with her parents and younger brother also depending on sign language to communicate. Although Mary’s daily communication at home was through sign language, she faced the challenge of going through a mainstream formal education structure that did not cater to sign language. Identifying the importance of developing new friendships in an inclusive environment, Mary joined the Deaf Rugby Programme on the recommendation of her friend who had been participating since 2018.

Before joining the Deaf Rugby Programme, Mary’s primary hobbies were playing judo and painting. However, she quickly realised that the Deaf Rugby Programme could provide her with additional skills, particularly when it came to communication. Mary attributes her participation in the programme to a development in her interpersonal communication skills, which have also led to her forming strong relationships. She highlights that this is an indispensable skillset that she utilises daily, alongside her increased ability to better manage her time. For Mary, these skills transition away from the rugby pitch as is indicated by her assertion that she would now actively seek help if she is ever facing an issue or has a question.


Mary places value in the sport of rugby due to the core values attached to the sport. She views rugby as a sport centred on respect, particularly when compared to other sports such as soccer or basketball. Mary believes that respect is essential to everything on and off the pitch, not just when it comes down to the result and an individual performance. The emphasis that Mary places on the core value of respect and her self-identified improvement in communication has not gone unnoticed. Lindsay Varty, who represents the Hong Kong National Women’s Rugby Team and has helped coached the Deaf Rugby team views Mary as “a multi-talented rugby player and painter” who has a “passion and enthusiasm for the game that is wonderful to see. She is incredibly supportive of everyone she meets and I would be even more happy if I could communicate by sign language with her fluently.”


Mary is utilising her newly developed skillset to integrate within the wider rugby community. With encouragement from Winnie Cheung, the Inclusive and Participation Officer (Deaf Rugby), Mary decided to apply for a summer rugby course hosted by Hong Kong Rugby Union to further develop herself on and off the pitch. Although she was nervous about integrating into the mainstream rugby environment, she was proud that she built up the courage to take the first (and often hardest) step. She was pleased to know that her teammates did not treat her any differently because of her disability and realised that everyone was willing to help out in order to solve problems that she faced.

Mary’s rugby experience has not all been smooth sailing. She tore her ACL and meniscus during a game at the summer rugby camp. However, this accident has not dampened her appetite for playing rugby and she has remained positive in the face of these challenges (including two surgeries within a year), demonstrating the importance that she places on her continued involvement in the rugby community. Mary could not play rugby across her recovery period, yet she remained actively engaged and took on the responsibility of becoming a volunteer rugby coach for children through the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf.


Mary thrived in her coaching role and continues to share her positive experiences with children in Hong Kong. Sue Soon, a staff member from Hong Kong Society for the Deaf noted that “Mary has a wealth of experience coaching children who require special interaction and she often uses painting with children to help teach them. It was great that she was able to share her experience with other deaf players.” In sharing her experiences with others, Mary continues to act as a role model to children growing up and depending on sign language to communicate. Mary has also been involved in a sharing session to promote Parasports, introducing students to sign language and the experience of deaf players when playing and in their daily life.


Mary’s development provides a clear pathway for other children growing up with similar experiences and facing similar challenges to her. The Deaf Rugby Programme has acted as a vehicle to support the development of key communication skills that allow her to thrive and ensure she is equipped to effectively share her experiences and learnings with the rugby community (and beyond). After a very long recovery period, Mary is now back playing rugby and in 2020 officially joined a local rugby club and is now demonstrating to the wider rugby community what is possible with hard work, determination and strong support networks.