Sophia Hu is as fearless on the rugby field as she is in the classroom.
“I love rugby because it’s a great way to de-stress from school,” says Hu. “Whatever frustrations I get from school, when I get on the field, I tackle people, I scream at the top of my lungs.”
A junior majoring in chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences, Hu, a fierce competitor on the Penn women’s rugby club, also happens to be deaf.
“I view myself as a culturally Deaf person,” says Hu. “I view myself as culturally Deaf with an uppercase ‘D,’ not a lowercase ‘d.’ A lowercase ‘d’ implies a disability.”
Hu has a cochlear implant which helps her to partially hear. She can make out what people are saying by reading their lips to complement the sounds she hears through the implant. The process works well when she’s speaking with a person one-on-one, but Hu can’t comprehend what’s being said in a noisy room or when several people are speaking at once.
Through Penn’s Office of Student Disabilities Services, Hu has an interpreter who attends classes to relay what the professor and other students are saying.
An interpreter also travels with Hu to rugby practices and every game.
The games are intense and fast-paced. Head Coach Emily Record calls out instructions to the players during games, so communication is important.
Along with an interpreter who relays messages to Hu, the team has devised hand signals to communicate upcoming plays.
“For one signal, we put our hands up before we run up to the ball,” says teammate Miranda Van Dijk. “When I see their hands go down, I move forward whether I hear them or not.”
With Hu on the team, Record hasn’t changed much about her coaching style—but does think about the best way to communicate with her.
“Sophia is just like all of the other girls on the team,” Record says. “She comes with focus and a desire to learn. She works hard, and often stays after or comes early to work on her passing and kicking skills.”
One of Hu’s most touching moments happened last year, when she was having a tough time playing a new position as the kicker. When she turned to her teammates after making a goal, all of her teammates greeted her with the deaf sign of applause—by holding their hands in the air and twisting them a few times.
“There was one girl on the team who learned American Sign Language and she knew about the deaf applause, so she told the other teammates to do that. It really touched me,” says Hu. “So, whenever I kicked, they did the deaf applause, even when I missed.”