March 2019 Toronto Star
Hard-running prop Morgan Mitchell has been a force on the field for the expansion Toronto Arrows this season. The New Zealander’s rise in rugby is all the more remarkable given he was deaf up until several years ago when a cochlear implant restored his hearing. Mitchell, 25, was born with a hearing impairment. He had some hearing thanks to hearing aids but his condition got worse. The five-foot-nine 251-pounder had the cochlear implant surgery three years ago after losing his hearing completely. “My eardrum was pretty much gone ... I could not hear anything and I was just lip-reading,” he said. “Life got a bit tough. If I didn’t have my parents, I wouldn’t have been here. They pushed me to get the cochlear implant. Now I’m loving it.”
Growing up, Mitchell’s rugby talent earned him an invitation to a New Zealand under-17 training camp. But his career appeared over when doctors told him he would have to give up the sport if he had the cochlear implant.
His surgeon disagreed, saying he could place the device a little deeper. Mitchell wears a scrum cap to help protect the external portion of the device. “I took his advice and look where I am now? Happy and just enjoying life,” he said.
It took several months to get used to the implant and have it working at peak levels. “It’s pretty amazing, to be honest . Just hearing things I’ve never heard before. Unbelievable,” he said enthusiastically.
A former flanker, Mitchell heard of the Arrows opportunity via his agent. After five years with the Southland Stags in New Zealand, his contract was expiring and he wanted a new challenge — and to hopefully learn new skills. “It’s a very hard competition,” he said of the Mitre 10 Cup, New Zealand’s provincial competition. “There’s so many players wanting a spot in the Mitre 10 that you have to be on top of your game and you have to perform week-in week-out.” He also wanted to see North America. Mitchell is diplomatic about the level of rugby in MLR. “There’s a couple of things they need to work on but it’s a start. It’s got massive potential,” he said.
While Mitchell admits the severity of the Canadian winter is something new, he is relishing life in his adopted home. “I’m absolutely loving the big city life as I’m from a wee farm town back home in New Zealand. Everyone’s been welcoming, it’s made life easy.”
Mitchell comes from Gore, located near the tip of New Zealand’s South Island.