Former Team GB diving coach struck by rare and ‘devastating’ condition

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Marc Holdsworth, 36, from Leeds, has trained Olympians including Tom Daley, Jack Laugher and Matty Lee, but for years he has secretly battled a debilitating neurological condition.

Marc struggles to stay on his feet as long as possible
Marc struggles to stay on his feet as long as possible

A former Team GB Olympic diving coach has revealed the horrifying parts of his degenerative neurological condition that makes him appear “drunk” and recently left him unable to walk unassisted.

Marc Holdsworth, 36, has coached Olympic medalists Tom Daley, Jack Laugher and Matty Lee from the pool to the podium while secretly engaging in a devastating battle.

At 21, the athlete was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia, a condition that attacks the nerves that control muscles in the body.

This can lead to problems with balance, mobility, vision, and speech.

After a nasty fall earlier this month, Marc was unable to walk without a slow cooker frame.

He also requires surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament.

Marc says not being in the pool and doing work he loves is ‘heartbreaking’
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Image:

Michelle Sharman)

Marc now works with elite divers at the City of Leeds diving club
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Image:

Michelle Sharman)

Brave Marc had never spoken publicly about his diagnosis, but has now revealed all to The Mirror.

He said: “When I talk to the Ataxia nurses and they tell me how well I am, I break down.

“It’s important to me to stand on my own two feet for as long as I can.

“One of the reasons I don’t speak openly about this is that I don’t want to be treated differently because I have it.

“It would mean a lot to be able to continue training, I started diving when I was only 5 years old, so it has been my life.

“There’s a lot more movement than people think, you have to look at dives from all angles and you move around a lot 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.

The last of those symptoms actually meant he was “tuned” to be a diver in his youth, but he knew something was wrong when he noticed he couldn’t do simple things.

He said: “I could do somersaults on the floor and stand on my arms, which were great party tricks, but I found I couldn’t do simple things like carry a cup of coffee from one side of the room to the other.

“I thought it was strange considering how much training he had. When I got the news it was devastating.

“The way it was explained was that if I had been diagnosed at 5 years old, at 7 years old I would have been in a wheelchair.

“I was really worried, I was an athlete, so I immediately asked questions about what this meant.

“They really didn’t have any concrete evidence of what would happen to me.

“I’ve just been trying to keep fighting and enjoying life because it degenerates over time.

“I’m not at a point where I need a wheelchair, but I do have a restricted driver’s license that is evaluated every year and I have a blue badge.”

Marc gives the diver Jaeda a hug by the pool

Marc now trains young divers at the Leeds City Diving Club, but has been unable to make it to the pool for months due to injury which is aggravated by his condition.

In a bid to help him get back on his feet as quickly as possible, the club’s parents have set up a GoFundMe to raise almost £15,000 to pay for the operation privately.

Overwhelmed by the kindness and support he has received, Marc is determined to raise as much awareness of ataxia as possible when he can finally walk again.

Michelle Sharman, whose daughter Jaeda immerses herself in the club, is leading the fundraising efforts, but admitted that before learning of his condition she thought Marc was “always drunk”.

She said: “I didn’t know about Marc’s condition when I met him, but he always seemed drunk.

“The difference in the divers since Marc joined the club is incredible.

“Jaeda has gone from wanting to quit the sport to finding his love for diving again.

“When he told me what he was going through, it was obvious we were going to do everything we could to help.”

For more information on Ataxia click here https://www.ataxia.org.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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