Crossing the United States by car constitutes a major undertaking. Trans-American motorists can expect to encounter inclement weather, bumpy roads, and heavy traffic on their multi-day journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Many cross-county travelers therefore opt to make the trip by air, rather than by road.
Not Gabriel Low. This month, the seventeen-year-old triathlete from Hawaii started a 3,000-mile road trip across the United States–on his bicycle.
Pedaling up to 90 miles a day, Low hopes to complete his ride in two months. What motivated the teen to embark on his cross-country trek? “The real inspiration, I have to say, came from my mother,” Low told KATU news.
Low’s mom suffers from Primary Periodic Paralysis, a rare disorder which causes her to occasionally lose motor function. Because the disease is genetic, Low suffers from bouts of paralysis, too. Unlike his mother, however, the teen received a diagnosis and proper treatment early in life.
“For the first 30 years [my mom] went undiagnosed,” Low explained. “All her efforts to help me grow up with the disease and not have to face the same challenges she did, that’s what I want to dedicate this ride to.”
Low hopes his ride will raise awareness not only about his own disorder, but about a host of other little-known diseases as well. According to Low, one in ten people suffer from a rare condition. Roughly 7,000 such disorders exist, and each of them “is so rare that doctors don’t learn about them a lot in med school, and they’re just not really acknowledged well,” Low said.
The teen’s cross-country cycling odyssey serves another purpose, too: transportation to the 2018 national triathlon championships in Cleveland, Ohio. That competition holds special meaning for Low. During an earlier qualifying event, an abrupt episode of paralysis tested his physical abilities to the limit.
“It was towards the second half of the triathlon, I realized that I’d forgotten to take my medication that morning,” Low explained. “As I was going, I started to feel my legs were harder to lift, and when I crossed the finish line, I collapsed.”
Low’s perseverance, however, paid off: the effort earned him a spot at the national championships in Cleveland. Thus, competing at nationals represents not only a significant athletic achievement for Low, but also a victory over his disorder.
Ultimately, Low hopes to compete in the world triathlon championships. En route to his goal, however, the teen desires to prioritize his campaign to raise awareness for rare diseases. He hopes his ride will “start a conversation and create a movement.”
Strongbridge Biopharma, a pharmaceutical firm which specializes in developing treatments for rare disorders, is sponsoring Low’s cross-country trip. “Strongbridge has given me a van and hotel rooms every night, and it’s insane what has happened,” Low said.
The teen feels grateful for the support he has received thus far, and invites fellow cyclists to join him on portions of his ride. See his Facebook page and website for updates on his journey. Additionally, well-wishers can show their support by contributing to Low’s GoFundMe account. Donations will cover Low’s trip expenses, and any leftover funds will support the Periodic Paralysis Association.