Deaf Blacks selection player’s goal

Oamaru stock agent Doug Brand (30) is preparing for two life goals: in March he plans on...
Oamaru stock agent Doug Brand (30) is preparing for two life goals: in March he plans on completing the Taupo Ironman and in April he wants to make the final cut for the Deaf Blacks and be named to the New Zealand Deaf Rugby Union squad to take on Argentina Deaf. Photo: Hamish MacLean
If being deaf, or hard of hearing, is supposed to be a disability, do not tell Doug Brand.

The 30-year-old Oamaru-based stock agent was this month named to the Deaf Blacks squad — and once he "hopefully" completes the Taupo Ironman in March, he would love to make the cut to play against Argentina next year.

Brand, who was the only player selected for the squad from south of the Waitaki River, was born without a left ear, without an ear drum, and with the inside of his right ear underdeveloped and requiring surgery to afford him about 60% to 70% hearing.

He was "mainstream schooled" and  found ways to adapt to things like talking in a crowd.

But in 2006 — the same year he represented New Zealand in triathlon at the ITU World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland — a rugby coach pulled him aside.

"He picked up there were things I was missing,"  Brand said.

"He pulled me aside and said ‘Have you got hearing loss?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do. How do you know?"’

The coach  worked with deaf people and a month later Brand joined the Southern Zone Deaf Rugby Union.

While, he never "lost" his hearing and never struggled through the isolation that could come with being entirely deaf, there were those on the team who did. And while the landscape had changed now, at the time he started there was a separation on the team between "us and them" that he had to overcome.

Once, at a meal, when he sat down and started talking, one of the team’s coaches "got up and left".

He spoke to the current team manager Evelyn Pateman, who  at the time was the team’s interpreter, who explained the situation.

"He won’t sit with you because you’ll be talking," he was told.

"I said, ‘Well, you tell him I’ll come back next year — and when I come back next year I’ll be signing."

He learned to sign from Southern Zone Deaf Rugby Union stalwart Phillip King, now one of his closest friends.He then flatted with deaf people as a 20-year-old in Christchurch and became fluent. And while he said deaf culture had "outgrown" the division over the intervening years, as the deaf community had become more mainstream, "it was an old school thing".

Mr Brand played with the Southern Zone Deaf Rugby Union from 2006 through 2010 and left the squad in 2011 to focus on his career. He walked away from multisport, too. Three years ago, work brought him to Oamaru and he started getting back in shape.

This year, with the 25th National Deaf Rugby Inter-Zonal Championships being hosted in Christchurch, he was asked again to play for the Southern Zone team, which he has "a lot of loyalty" to. He did and Southern won. He would "love to" make the cut and take on Argentina, but says the return to multisport had pulled his attention away from rugby for the time being.

"By the time I, touch wood, finish Ironman, this will be my sole focus. But my fitness will be very good." 

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