I’m Your Shooting Star, Reach Up

I’m Your Shooting Star, Reach Up

Paul and Merry Low planned on having a family right from the beginning. They wanted four children, two biologically their own and two adopted with special needs. When they found that biological children were not in their cards they went straight to the adoption part of their plan. The average couple waits seven years for an available child, but for people wanting a child with special needs, that time is greatly shortened. The Adoption Ministry felt concern about Paul and Merry because they were relatively newly married (three years) and not very old (23 and 25). Merry and Paul assured all parties that they were well supported by family, friends, and church. When the call came that a baby was available they jumped at the chance. On the way to the hospital, Merry closed her eyes and prayed that this was the right thing to do and all would go well. Just as she opened her eyes, a shooting star streaked across the sky in front of them. That’s when they knew that Joshua was indeed their shooting star.

Thanks to the unwavering support and care of Merry and Paul, Joshua reached stardom last year as he became Canada’s first gold medal winner at the Special Olympic World Games held in Los Angeles, California July 25-August 2, 2015. The remarkable story of victory is not one of just sports. The victory is more of an accumulation of battles won from birth. Joshua has Down Syndrome, that’s what qualifies him for the Special Olympics. But what qualifies him for victory is his ability to reach up and conquer all that life throws at him.
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Even as Merry and Paul signed the adoption papers the worker told them, “This is a bad choice—you don’t know what you’re getting into.” At eight weeks Joshua had serious heart problems and received multiple surgeries by the time he was six months old. Joshua suffered a stroke after the surgery which left some permanent weakness to his left side. At 20 months he had full blown open heart surgery. In the meantime, Merry and Paul added 12-year-old Bob to the family. Bob, developmentally delayed because of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), had the needs of a two-year-old. One year later they adopted 17-month-old Kate also with FAS and NAS. One year after that they added six-month-old Jacob, also with Down Syndrome to the family. Four years, four children, all with special needs vying for attention.

Joshua was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was four years old. At one point in his 3½ years of illness and chemotherapy (age six), his condition was so jeopardized that the hospital recommended that he be moved to a hospice for end of life care. They didn’t know if he would live six days, six weeks or six months. During that time, Joshua frequently reported to his family that he walked with Jesus during that night. From age 4½ to 11,  Joshua used a feeding tube to try to replace all the nutrients and energy the chemo robbed him of.

At about age 12 Joshua expressed a desire to play sports. The doctors strongly recommended against it fearing that it would put Joshua at serious risk. Merry and Paul realized that if Joshua’s life was going to be short he should be able to peruse his desires while he could. They let him sign up for Special Olympic floor hockey. Just running from one end of the gym to the other was a big accomplishment. When Special Olympics started a multi-sport program he entered the competition. Joshua had to take a year off of sports when he had a stent placed in his heart, because they couldn’t risk any contact until the stent is firmly established. He returned to playing multiple sports including softball, track and field, hockey, and basketball.

He started swimming in 2011 at the beginning of the four-year Olympic cycle. He qualified for the Regionals in the 25-meter butterfly despite the coaches warning that it was too easy to get disqualified in butterfly due to the technical nature of the stroke. Merry laughed at the coach’s fears. “It’s his first year swimming, he’s not going anywhere. If he gets disqualified, he will learn and grow. Just put him in the race,” she told her. He won that race and did well in the backstroke and freestyle as well. He moved on to Provincials.

As luck, well Joshua’s luck anyway, would have it in that particular four-year qualifying cycle all the races were held close to home. “If ever there was a year to succeed, this is the year,” Paul and Merry realized. Every year Joshua moved up another step as he progressed from Regionals to Provincials to Nationals and on towards the World Games in Los Angeles.

The Saturday before Christmas 2014, as Joshua was walking home from work at Mr. Mikes, where he works as a dishwasher, a car struck him throwing him six feet into the air and onto his head. The incident caused two brain bleeds, a concussion, whiplash and six stitches. Remarkably, he suffered no broken bones. In the three days he stayed in the hospital the nurses remarked that they’d never seen someone with Down Syndrome so fit. Joshua sports quite a “six-pac” as a result of his rigorous, disciplined workout schedule and healthy eating habits while in training. His fitness is credited for his low number of injuries.

Still in April 2015, Joshua received a muscle injury to his shoulder in another car accident when the family car was rear-ended. The injury was best healed by swimming as it turned out and that’s what Joshua does—he swims.

At the 2015 Special Olympic World Games in July, Joshua raced to a personal best and gold medal in the 25-meter backstroke, Canada’s first gold medal of the games. Joshua hadn’t raced in an outdoor pool before and couldn’t use the usual markings on the ceiling during the backstroke to keep him in the middle of the lane. “I just prayed, ‘Let him finish’,” Merry said. “Somehow he swam that race perfectly straight. I think maybe Heavenly Father made a line across the sky for him.” Joshua has only 50% lung capacity due to asthma and effects of chemo and has no natural buoyancy which makes the feat all the more remarkable. “I felt the presence of God when I swam that race,” Joshua says. In his second race, he took fifth place in the 25 meter free, also a personal best. He added the 4 X 25-meter relay to his repertoire because they didn’t offer butterfly. Joshua swam anchor and the team took fourth. The slogan of the 2015 Games, “Reach Up” could be Joshua’s life slogan as well.
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“This has been a wild ride and it ain't over yet. Joshua put off a needed heart surgery to replace a pulmonary valve before he competed in the World Games, so we have to fit that in between the Regionals and Provincials this year,” Paul says. Joshua starts training right away for his next big reach into stardom.

“Without our faith, I don’t think we would have made it through all this with Joshua and the three of our special needs children. We’ve had lots of priesthood blessings. It’s a Godsend to have that available to you,” Paul says. Though Joshua hasn’t figured out the specifics yet he says, “I’m here for a purpose, but I don’t know what it is yet... “I might be small, but small people give big packages.”

“I know you aren’t supposed to pray for signs, but that night on our way to get Joshua I prayed for some sign to know if what we were doing was the right thing. I’d never seen a shooting star before,” Merry says.

“Maybe God sent a shooting star to you to bring you to me,” Josh said to his parents. “Maybe that shooting star was pointing you to me, pointing to this gold medal,” Joshua said.
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