My name is Gabriel Low. I am 17 years old, and I am a competitive triathlete, a singer, and a scientist, among other things. I was born in Colombia, raised in Alaska, and now live in Hilo, Hawaii. All of these things are a part of my identity, and they are definitely not unimportant, but there is one quality of mine that I feel, especially now, is more important than the rest: I am someone affected by a rare chronic disease.
I was diagnosed with Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis (HKPP) when I was 6 years old. HKPP is a genetic disease characterized by unstable potassium levels in the bloodstream resulting in muscle weakness and, at times, paralysis. In order for me to lead a near-normal life, I was prescribed numerous medications and dietary restrictions which I have had to follow religiously throughout my life. These restrictions include a low-salt low-sugar diet, as well as restricting excess carbohydrates. As a child, living like this was no small challenge.
Now, 11 years after being diagnosed with HKPP, I have learned to manage the disease and function as an ordinary person, and even do extraordinary things. Other than medication and a low-sugar low-salt diet, I have learned about one more major thing that helps me to function: Exercise. Consistent exercise. When I started training for triathlons about 1 ½ years ago, I noticed a huge change in my ability to “cheat” on my diet. I could start to go out and get ice cream without having to suffer the major consequences that I was used to (slight weakness and overall decrease in functionality) afterwards. I didn’t make the connection to exercise until about a month later, when I took a week off of training, when I noticed that HKPP had come back and had started to affect me again, and I was unable to eat as I pleased. However, as soon as I returned to training, I immediately started to notice improvements. From that moment on, I have not stopped exercising. And that consistent exercise has led to something else that I has become a large part of my life: Competitive Triathlon.
I competed in my first major race last year while on exchange. Since then, I have continued to train and improve, and in the last triathlon I competed in (the Lavaman Waikoloa), I was able to perform better than I could have imagined. My performance at the Lavaman qualified me to compete in the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in early August, where there will be competitors from all over the country. Through this race, I hope to qualify for the world championships in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2019.
In the months before the race this August, I have decided that I want to take a stronger stance as someone with a rare disease. I have decided to use my strength that I have been granted now for something more than just racing. I want to make a difference in the world of rare diseases. I want to give hope to others like me. I want to raise awareness, to promote support, and advocate increased understanding for rare diseases. To do this, I will be riding across the country, sharing my message with all I can along the way.