Re­ju­ve­nated cy­cle

An el­derly or­gan re­cip­i­ent in Thai­land cel­e­brates his new lease of life by cycling his way to fit­ness.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Senior - By MA­JORIE CHIEW star2@thes­tar.com.my

CYCLING has given re­tired Thai busi­ness­man Tawatchai Eak­tu­ra­pakal a new lease of life. This has driven Tawatchai to pro­mote cycling for health tire­lessly. The 69-year-old phi­lan­throphist is the pres­i­dent of a pro­vin­cial cycling club who or­gan­ises week­end cycling trips to dif­fer­ent parts of Thai­land.

Last year, he was awarded a royal in­signia by the Min­istry of Tourism and Sports of Thai­land, in recog­ni­tion of his ser­vices to the coun­try.

Tawatchai has come a long way from the days when he was suf­fer­ing and strug­gling from a mul­ti­tude of health is­sues. He has sur­vived a few heart att­tacks and chronic dis­eases such as kid­ney fail­ure, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, prostate can­cer, lym­phoma and an en­larged heart.

A father of three daugh­ters, Tawatchai used to lead a stressful life.

“I worked too hard and led an un­healthy life­style. I ate un­healthy food and con­sumed too much al­co­hol and meat. Most of all, I also did not ex­er­cise,” he said.

In 1991, he was di­ag­nosed with chronic kid­ney dis­ease.

For three years, he was on dial­y­sis treat­ment. “In the be­gin­ning, I had to go for dial­y­sis twice a month, then grad­u­ally once a week and then on al­ter­nate days,” re­called Tawatchai. But in 1994, he re­ceived a do­nated kid­ney, which meant that he no longer needed to go for dial­y­sis.

Re­ceiv­ing the do­nated or­gan was a turn­ing point for Tawatchai who vowed to look af­ter his health.

“Af­ter that, I try to live healthily and watch my diet,” he said.

Be­sides cut­ting down on meat, he eats ev­ery­thing but avoids oily, salty and sweet foods.

Th­ese days, he also takes life easy.

“It’s hands off from busi­ness. My fam­ily and friends are help­ing to run th­ese busi­nesses. How­ever, I will be there for them when­ever they need my ad­vice.”

But Tawatchai’s most sig­nif­i­cant re­solve was to get fit and ac­tive.

Pedal power

At first, he tried run­ning as a form of ex­er­cise.

“I ran in the park near my home, think­ing it would be the eas­i­est thing. Un­for­tu­nately, I had Achilles ten­donitis and had to stop. Af­ter I re­cov­ered, I switched to cycling,” shared Tawatchai, who found that cycling suited him bet­ter than run­ning.

At first, Tawatchai cy­cled 1km a day. Although it was tir­ing ini­tially, he also be­gan to feel good too. And so, he be­gan to in­crease the dis­tance he did, month af­ter month.

Th­ese days, he cy­cles ev­ery morn­ing. On week­ends, he cy­cles up to 150km, from morn­ing to evening with breaks for meals.

He also goes on long-dis­tance bik­ing tours, in con­voys of between 15 and 30 cy­clists. So far, they have toured Myan­mar and Laos.

Tawatchai is ab­so­lutely con­vinced of cycling’s heal­ing pow­ers; he says it is “like magic medicine. It felt good and I also re­cov­ered fully from my knee pain af­ter I started cycling.”

He even rec­om­mended cycling to his friends who were strug­gling with ill health.

His friend who was in his 70s was told he needed to go for bal­loon an­gio­plasty of the coro­nary artery, and Tawatchai en­cour­aged him to join his cycling group for short rides ev­ery morn­ing.

“He joined us for about six months and later dis­cov­ered that he need not go for the oper­a­tion,” said Tawatchai.

“I’m happy if I man­aged to con­vince friends of my age, who never thought they could cy­cle long dis­tance, to join me. Af­ter they started cycling, they looked fit­ter,” he said.

Pro­mot­ing cycling is a good move to­wards build­ing a health-con­scious so­ci­ety but Tawatchai said tak­ing up any form of ex­er­cise is just as good.

“Just opt for the sport you like.”

For those who want to take up cycling, his ad­vice is to start small.

“You don’t need to in­vest in an ex­pen­sive bike; just get one that can bring you from one point to an­other. That’s a good start!” said Tawatchai, who ac­tively pro­motes cycling for good health in his home prov­ince, Nakhon Pathom, in cen­tral Thai­land.

“When I re­vived the Nakon­pathom Cycling For Health Club which was started by my se­nior friend, it only had 15 mem­bers. To­day, the as­so­ci­a­tion, now called the NP Cycling As­so­ci­a­tion, has 120 mem­bers,” said Tawatchai, the club pres­i­dent since 1997. They have mem­bers rang­ing from age 10 to 75.

Cycling, he said, has be­come one of the trendi­est sports for the younger gen­er­a­tion in Thai­land too.

Th­ese days, he re­gards cycling as his full time ac­tiv­ity. From time to time, he will ini­ti­ate a cycling cam­paign with some char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions or cycling trips with the Tourism Author­ity of Thai­land to pro­mote good causes.

“It can be any­thing from rais­ing funds for needy char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions or do­nat­ing bi­cy­cles to needy chil­dren in re­mote vil­lages in Thai­land who have to walk a long dis­tance to school ev­ery day. We also or­gan­ise short train­ing cour­ses to equip chil­dren or adults with ba­sic knowl­edge on how to change bi­cy­cle tyres or worn out parts,” he said.

Com­pet­ing in the World Trans­plant Games

Apart from cycling for leisure, Tawatchai will also be com­pet­ing at the World Trans­plant Games in Malaga, Spain from June 25 to July 2. This is the third time he has been se­lected by the Trans­plant Sports As­so­ci­a­tion of Thai­land to com­pete in the games, which draws over 2500 par­tic­i­pants from 55 na­tions.

“I will be com­pet­ing in bad­minton and petanque,” he said.

In 2013, Tawatchai came in ninth for cycling and third in bad­minton (dou­bles cat­e­gory) at the 19th World Trans­plant Games in Dur­ban, South Africa.

In 2015, he came in fifth in cycling and third in bad­minton (sin­gles) in the 20th World Trans­plant Games in Mar Del Plata, Ar­gentina.

The el­derly ath­lete is keen to in­spire other trans­plant pa­tients to em­u­late his healthy life­style, as re­ceiv­ing an or­gan trans­plant is tan­ta­mount to be­ing given a sec­ond chance to­live.

“Many sports­men in the as­so­ci­a­tion have built their con­fi­dence and morale to live healthy lives through sports. Win­ning in the World Trans­plant Games is not my ob­jec­tive but a bonus.

“To com­pete in the games is to re­alise our ca­pa­bil­i­ties, forge friend­ships with other sports­men and live life to the fullest,” said Tawatchai.

— Pho­tos: NP CYCLING AS­SO­CI­A­TION

Tawatchai is 69 and in peak form be­cause he is an avid cy­clist.

Tawatchai (sec­ond from right) pro­motes cycling by en­gag­ing with the Thai me­dia.

Cycling ex­pe­di­tions are pop­u­lar in Thai­land, as they pro­mote a healthy life­style.

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