Aussie Olympic hero Michael Klim reveals shocking diagnosis

·4-min read
Michael Klim is pictured alongside partner Michelle Owen.
Michael Klim has opened up about his diagnosis with a debilitating auto-immune condition, which he has kept private since 2020. Picture: Instagram

Australian swimming great Michael Klim has revealed he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease in 2020, with the three-time Olympian no longer able to walk unassisted.

Klim, one of Australia's most successful swimmers in the 1990s and early 2000s, told the Sunday Telegraph he'd been learning to live with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) after an array of worsening symptoms led to doctors working on a diagnosis.

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CIFD is an auto-immune disorder which causes a progressive weakening and loss of feeling in the arms and legs, caused by the immune system inadvertently damaging protective tissue around the nerves.

The 44-year-old had actually been noticing symptoms for several years prior to his diagnosis in 2020.

Klim spoke about collapsing in front of his children, as well as having to increasingly rely on his wife and other friends to aid him with some day to day tasks.

“In 2019 I started to get symptoms that I didn’t realise were connected to my diagnosis,” Klim said.

“I have been dealing with chronic ankle problems and degenerative back issues for quite some time and over the past few years, I noticed severe muscle wastage in my legs, difficulty with balance, some loss of function from the knees down, numbness in my thighs and feet, to the extent I was unable to stand.”

Klim said he had felt reluctant initially to publicly discuss his diagnosis, revealing the effect the condition has had on his body has caused him to feel depressed and occasionally frustrated.

He said that eventually he came to the realisation that he was better off being open about his condition, given he believes he now has an opportunity to raise more awareness of the disorder.

“Only recently I have started to share my story as it was getting harder to discuss my symptoms,” he said.

“We then came to find more people suffering from this condition. It made me realise that this rare condition might not be as rare as I think so I wanted to share my story in hope that more research can be directed towards CIDP.

“It’s hard accepting that my identity will no longer be reliant on my athletic ability. I now need to find a new mindset and mental toughness to allow me to overcome and accept this new challenge.

"Sharing my journey is another part of this healing process and I would hope that it brings awareness to CIDP and resonates with people who may be going through similar challenges.”

Australian Olympic champion Michael Klim shares heavy diagnosis

Klim said he had faced plenty of challenges before and after his diagnosis, even revealing there had been times where he had taken to heavy drinking in order to deal with it.

He described attempting to 'numb the pain' with alcohol and how difficult it was to adjust to a reality where his body was now betraying him.

“People that I’ve told, or I have spoken to about my CIDP, they’ve said oh, you’re an Olympic athlete you’ve got that mental strength to get you through this,” Klim said.

“And it’s actually, hasn’t necessarily been the case. It’s not like I can do extra exercises or this or that, if anything, I’ve been more despondent about it. And it’s more depressing.

Michael Klim is pictured at the Australian Swimming Trials in 2012.
Michael Klim was a world record holder and Olympic gold medal;list for Australia during a golden age of swimming. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“I’ve gone through phases where I even drank too much and tried to numb the pain.

“I give myself about an hour a day to feel sorry and angry and frustrated and whatever else or what other emotion comes into my mind, and then move on with the rest of life”.

Klim also said he has had plenty of assistance from former teammate Ian Thorpe, as well as paying tribute to his partner Michelle Owens for her support.

“I’m also extremely lucky to have a very supportive partner," he said.

"Michelle has been there with me every step of this journey, I know she has sacrificed a lot. She is, as Thorpy likes to call it, my “human walking stick”’.

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