Even on a bad day, Kris Smith still looks good.
With his physique having now appeared in countless modelling campaigns over the last eight years, the former British rugby league star and ex-partner of Dannii Minogue appears to be in peak condition.
However, for the last 10 years Kris has actually been secretly battling a debilitating condition – osteoarthritis – which has had a big impact on his life. Exacerbated by his time on the sporting field, Kris suffers from the condition in both of his knees and will be raising awareness about it during Osteoarthritis Month in October.
“I have had bad knees since I was in high school,” the 39-year-old explains. “I went through a lot of rapid growing pains which affected my legs so I needed knee operations when I was 17 and 20 to put in a graft of my hamstring and another to put in a plastic insertion which acted like a ligament. So, when I was also diagnosed with OA after retiring from rugby league, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.
“I still like to keep as active as I can, but the pain is daily. It can get pretty bad – it’s a constant throbbing or aching and can be painful to walk. I have to sit in a certain way and arrange my knees at certain angles to ease the pain as much as possible. In winter with the cold weather, they are a lot worse. I take supplements like fish oil and primrose oil and it helps a little, but the pain never really goes away, it just eases a little.”
Not one to turn down a challenge, Kris recently put his dodgy knees to the test by walking the gruelling Kokoda trail for charity.
“I was asked to walk the Kokoda Trail in support of The Mark Hughes Foundation and the National Jockeys Trust along with four other jockeys,” he says.
“We went in August and completed the 96km trail in just three and a half days as we were on a time crunch. Usually, people do it over eight days so it was really intense! We were walking up to 14 hours a day going up and down hills.”
Kris puts his achievement down to hard work and the help of the Ossur Unloader One Lite knee brace, which he recently became an ambassador for.
“I honestly don’t’ think I would have completed it without the braces as it was just so gruelling and was really hard on me physically and mentally,” he says.
“The braces took the load or pressure off the bad part of my knee and transfered the pressure onto the other good part and surrounding muscles such as my quads, glutes and calves. There’s less pain as a result. I wear them around four times a week. They’re so beneficial for anyone around my age who is suffering from the condition and doesn’t want to feel old before their time.
“I was just so proud that I was able to complete the trail with my bad knees, I feel like they’ve changed my life. I still keep as fit as possible by training in the gym, swimming, playing golf and going for walks. However now I can walk the length of the golf course instead of taking a cart.”
Kris says walking the track was one of the most rewarding things he has ever done – but warns that it’s not for the faint-hearted.
“I had such a newfound respect for the soldiers who walked it. We were carrying 10kg backpacks which was hard enough – they were doing it with 25kg packs day in day out. It was also inspiring to walk alongside the local porters. Whilst we were complaining about it being hard under foot, two of the porters walked the trail in thongs and one of them in bare feet! It gave me a new perspective on life and what can be achieved.”
Far from being idle, Kris has tons on the go including ongoing contracts with Myer, Clinique Menswear and Holden. He’s also an active dad to seven-year-old son Ethan and is working on releasing his own menswear clothing label.
He’d also love to do more TV and says he relishes everything he’s taken part in so far – including an equally taxing stint in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here.
“That experience really taught me a lot,” he says. “I learnt about patience, you just can’t rush anything out there. I did a lot of thinking there. I had a lot of insecurities when I was younger. I felt like the little fat kid who never believed he was good enough and wasn’t worthy of love and affection. Those thoughts were still plaguing me even in the jungle. I lay there night after night, thinking, ‘These demons can eat me alive or I can finally deal with them. I can’t run away from them any longer’.
“That began a process of addressing my fears step by step. I learnt to value myself and rationalised that I had a lot of great qualities and that nobody’s perfect. The experience turned my life around and for that I’m grateful.”
As for his knees, Kris says he will eventually have to get titanium knee replacements.
“Once you have them in, the more you need to get them re-done. So for the time being I’m just putting up with the discomfort for as long as I can, although wearing the braces has really helped and will stall that process more. When it comes to the point where I need surgery I’ll just deal with it. I’ve always been pretty positive so I’ll just get on with it when the time comes.”