Harvard Senior Rugger Plays Without Hearing

And you think you have problems with your equipment. Harvard flanker Patrick Holkins took a direct hit to his right ear against Dartmouth in 2006 that demolished his hearing aid. “I accepted that, for safety reasons, I would have to play ‘unaided,’” he says. Meaning, he would play without any ability to hear what was going on at all.

Holkins is 23, 6-feet-2 and 180 pounds, deaf in his left ear since age four and progressively losing the hearing in his right. The Harvard senior Government major (he’s considering law school) is active in educating young deaf people in empowering themselves and for that became the cover story for the September/October Hearing Loss Magazine, the national publication of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

He’s depicted in the spread in his Harvard rugby gear. “Growing up, football and basketball were my main sports, and in both cases I think it's fair to say that my athletic skills paled in comparison to my enthusiasm for running into people,” he says. “By the time I came to Harvard, I had been tipped off to rugby by a few like-minded friends who had played at their respective colleges the previous year. After the first week of practice, I knew I belonged.” It’s difficult to imagine how the game is played with no sound – imagine not hearing referee whistles, line-out calls or “ball’s out!” – but Holkins gets by “through a combination of hand-signals and lip-reading.

Before each a game, I'll tap someone in the pack as my designated go-to-guy. Throughout the game, if I miss a line-out call or get whistled for a penalty, I turn to him for information. On the bright side, it certainly leaves less time to argue with the Sir (referee)!” Holkins took off the fall season “in an effort to better control the fluctuations in my hearing,” he says. “Depending on whether I decide to pursue a cochlear implant in the coming months, I'll be back for the Spring season. I'm still out a training once a week or so to help coach the freshmen, in addition to the games. Needless to say, it's been tough watching from the sidelines.”

Contact: Buzz McClain
Email: rugbybuzzatgmail [dot] com

used by permission of Rugby magazine Harvard Senior Rugger Plays Without Hearing