Nathan Gafuik

Canadian Olympic gymnast & Addison's Disease trooper

On the road...

Nathan has been one of Canada's top male gymnasts for many years. He started at the University of Calgary Gymnastics Centre just before his 6th birthday and has been there ever since. Under the guidance of his long-time coach, Tony Smith, he qualified as an alternate to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and went on to compete at both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games. Nathan's career includes medals from many international games, world cup events, and other national and international competitions. Over the years, he has amassed one of the largest medal collections in Canadian gymnastics.

Nathan’s career thrived under rather unique circumstances. At age 15, he was diagnosed with Addison's disease. Addison’s is a rare auto-immune disease that results when the adrenal glands do not produce sufficient amounts of certain hormones. In some cases the adrenals can lose their function totally and this is unfortunately the situation Nathan faces. The adrenals are part of your endocrine system; they produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body. Without treatment the disease is life-threatening.

Treatment includes replacement doses of cortisol and aldosterone although Nathan’s experience tells him that even though the drugs maintain life, they aren’t always enough to keep him healthy or feeling good. Nathan has struggled to maintain control of his health throughout his career and has learned many lessons the hard way. With that said, Nathan has always kept an optimistic outlook on his condition. Strangely enough, he believes that it has made him a better gymnast. Addison’s forced him to concentrate on his health and taught him how to control stress and be on top of recovery at all times. It also gave him a reason to fight and overcome. If he was going to put stress on his health by continuing in gymnastics then he had to give it all he had.

In turn, gymnastics gave him a reason take control of his health and never let it be an excuse as to why he couldn’t accomplish a goal. It truly has been a symbiotic relationship and through his hard work and tenacity he has been able to keep competing at the top level of his sport and really achieve.

Getting set to finish up his competitive career, Nathan is really looking forward to his future. He has seen a lot of the world, met a lot of people and learned to manage highly stressful situations. Along the way, he feels that he has gained a tremendous amount of first-hand knowledge about dealing with chronic illness. This last is perhaps the most valuable and he would like to find ways to pass along his findings and experiences in any way he can. Nathan believes he has been extremely lucky with the support he has had from his parents, doctors and coaches and wants to be the one who now lends support to others.

Be sure to continue to follow Nathan as there are likely many exciting things to come.

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