Ex-Team GB diving coach hit with rare illness that makes him look ‘drunk’
Marc Holdsworth, 36, from Leeds, coached Olympic athletes such as Tom Daley, Jack Laugher and Matty Lee, but for years secretly battled a debilitating neurological condition.
Image: Michelle Sharman)
A former Olympic diving coach for the British team has revealed the horrific aspects of his degenerative neurological condition which makes him appear ‘drunk’ and recently rendered him unable to walk unaided.
Marc Holdsworth, 36, coached Olympic medalists Tom Daley, Jack Laugher and Matty Lee from the pool to the podium while secretly facing a devastating battle.
The 21-year-old athlete was diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia – a disease that attacks the nerves that control the muscles of the body.
This can lead to problems with balance, mobility, vision and speech.
After a bad fall earlier this month, Marc found himself unable to walk without a baking frame.
He also needs surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament.
Brave Marc had never spoken publicly about his diagnosis, but now he’s come clean to The Mirror.
He said: ‘When I talk to the nurses about Ataxia and they tell me how well I am, I break down.
“It’s important for me to stay up as long as possible.
“One of the reasons I don’t talk about it openly is that I don’t want to be treated differently because I have it.
“It would mean the world could keep coaching, I started diving when I was 5 so that has been my life.
“There’s a lot more movement than people realize, you have to look at the dives from all angles and you do a lot of movement between different people, I’m not just sitting in a chair by the pool.
“Not being able to do what I love is heartbreaking.”
Living with ataxia is like “constantly walking on a balance beam,” says Marc, who also suffers from muscle pain, fatigue and hypermobility.
This last of these symptoms actually meant he was “tuned” to be a diver in his younger years, but he knew something was wrong when he noticed he was unable to do simple things.
He said: ‘I could do somersaults on the floor and armrests, which were great party tricks, but I noticed I couldn’t do simple things like carry a cup of coffee from a side to side of the room.
“I thought it was strange considering the amount of training I had. When I heard the news, it was devastating.
“The way it was explained was that if I had been diagnosed at 5, I would have been in a wheelchair at 7.
“I was really worried, I was an athlete, so I immediately asked about what it meant.
“They didn’t really have concrete evidence of what was going to happen to me.
“I just tried to keep fighting and enjoying life because it degenerates over time.
“It’s not to a point where I need a wheelchair but I have a restricted driving license which is assessed every year and I have a blue badge.”
Now Marc coaches young divers at Leeds City Diving Club but has been unable to go poolside for months due to the injury which is aggravated by his condition.
In a bid to help him get back on his feet as quickly as possible, parents at the club have set up a GoFundMe to raise nearly £15,000 to pay for the surgery privately.
Overwhelmed by the kindness and support he has received, Marc is determined to raise as much awareness as possible around ataxia when he can finally walk again.
Michelle Sharman, whose daughter Jaeda dives at the club, is leading the fundraising efforts but admitted that before learning of his condition she thought Marc was “still drunk”.
She said: ‘I didn’t know Marc’s condition when I first met him, but he always seemed drunk.
“The difference between the divers since Marc joined the club is incredible.
“Jaeda went from wanting to quit the sport to finding her love of diving again.
“When he told me what he was going through, it was obvious that we were going to do everything we could to help him.”
For more information on ataxia click here https://www.ataxia.org.uk