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