When Olympic swimming gold medallist Michael Klim was asked to support a campaign encouraging men to paint a nail to show support and raise funds for children affected by sexual and physical violence, he didn’t hesitate.
Michael is the face of a campaign called the Polished Man, engineered by not-for-profit group YGap. “One in five kids are being affected by sexual and physical violence; it’s an alarming figure,” Michael says. “No kid should experience that.”
Michael is supporting the campaign’s second year and meets us just off the plane from Bali where his three children – Frankie, five, Rocco, eight and Stella, 10 – and his former partner Lindy are based, and where Michael continues to spend much of his time.
Being a parent has resulted in Michael focusing on the needs of children. “Your kids put all this trust in you. You’re their protector. [This cause] really resonated with me.”
He was inspired by YGap chief executive Elliot Costello’s story, which triggered the idea for the Polished Man. During a visit to a Cambodia, Elliot met a young girl called Thea with whom he played noughts and crosses and other games for hours.
Thea drew a heart on Elliot’s palm and then painted his nails blue. The next day Elliot learned that Thea had been subjected to physical and sexual assault daily by a doctor at the orphanage she had been sent to after her father died.
Elliot shared similar stories involving other young girls. “These girls who were affected by sexual and physical violence were so withdrawn and to find a way of communicating with them he sat down and they started painting their nails and then they painted his,” Michael says. “He kept that as a sign of connecting with them. It was a really personal experience Elliot had. It pulls at my heart strings.”
Michael says wearing one painted fingernail is a way of drawing useful attention to the issue. “It’s actually works,” he says. “The first time I put nail polish on my finger people said, ‘Why are you wearing blue or pink nail polish?’ The awareness has been great.”
Michael, who retired from competitive swimming in 2007 (there was an unsuccessful comeback for the London Olympics) is happy to use his profile for such great causes.
“I thought you needed to be someone like Bono or Elton John or Angelina Jolie to make a difference … but it’s nice for me to be able to use my profile for good, so it’s quite rewarding from my point of view – you can be a retired swimmer and have an influence on the world.”