A charity cycling trip sets out to raise funds to complete the new training centre for the disabled in Chiang Dao
IN WHAT CAN only be considered a remarkable demonstration of energy and determination, 20 pairs of cyclists – one with normal eyesight, the other with diminished vision – recently rode tandems over an impressive 867 kilometres from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
The charity cycling trip dubbed “No One Left Behind” took them through nine provinces in nine days, finishing up at the under-construction Asean Disability Training Centre in Chiang Dao to the cheers and applause of their many supporters.
“The most important thing about riding tandem is communication,” says Yanisa Ekmahachai, 61, of her ride with Chaiwat Chalaoprakon, 27, who is blind.
“We have to trust each other and adjust our pedalling so that it’s in harmony, otherwise the chain becomes loose and falls off.”
“Riding a tandem was very difficult at first because of the control required, especially when turning left or right. It’s essential to harmonise and understand each other. Encouragement is important too. Whenever exhaustion set in as we cycled up hills, Prakong would shout ‘Lop Buri, Fight, Fight!’” agrees Manas Klomkool, a 56-year-old teacher with the Christian Foundation for the Blind in Lop Buri who paired up with Prakong Buayai, a 29-year-old athlete with the National Blind Football Team.
Riding a tandem is very different from single-bike cycling, adding a whole new dimension to the road and the way you ride it. And contrary to what some people might imagine, being married or living together doesn’t mean you will tandem well together. That said, the teamwork required by tandem cycling does strengthen friendship and rapport between riders.
The sighted rider, called the pilot, sits at the front of the bike and communicates what’s ahead to the person with vision loss, called the stoker, in the back seat.
Like many other professional sighted cyclists, Yanisa and Manas didn’t have any experience in riding a tandem and were initially wary of the task ahead. Both spent many months practising with their respective partners, learning how to ride together and have fun doing it while remembering to provide their fellow rider with useful information about upcoming surface changes, obstacles, turns, hills, and when to brake.
“Because I had never ridden tandem or even in the company of someone with diminished eyesight, I got it wrong sometimes, especially at the beginning,” Yanisa admits.
“I would tell him we needed to cover 100 or 200 metres to reach the top of the hill so he could support my speed. We argued about the gear we should use to climb the slope of Au Long in Ratchaburi and it wasn’t until afterwards that I found that the reason he wanted to use a lower gear was because he was exhausted. And I never imagined we would be able to climb so many hills. It was kind of discouraging cycling over six kilometres of hilly terrain between Phrae and Lampang, though.”
“I feel the cadence while cycling and because I can’t see, I’ve had to learn cycling techniques. While we were cycling through Suan Phueng in Ratchaburi, our chain fell off but we didn’t inform the staff. If we’d said anything, our tandem would have been loaded onto a truck. So, I rode alone for 20km. I suffered from a sore butt but not really from cramp,” says Buriram-born Chaiwat, who first experienced tandem cycling with his mother. “I once rode from Nakhon Pathom to Suan Phueng in Ratchaburi, a distance of 235 kilometres in one day, then slept at Chom Bueng.”
Manas adopted another approach, giving step-by-step information along the road to Prakong.
“At first, I told him to turn left or turn right, but after cycling for awhile, we were in harmony and didn’t need any words,” says Manas with a laugh. “He would ask me if there was a curve or hill coming up and sometimes I would tell him jokingly that it wasn’t far.”
“Actually, he must tell me about the route,” says Prakong, who will be attending a football camp in Spain organised by the 2018 Blind Football World Championship in June.
“I didn’t worry about coming down the hills but climbing them. If I knew how far we were from the top of the hill, I could save my energy. However, Kru Manas has more energy and I trust him.”
“No One Left Behind” was organised to raise funds for the construction of an Asean disability training centre in Chiang Dao district which, when completed, will empower and provide opportunities to the disabled in the area, generating greater income and reducing poverty.
“The world of impairment will no longer be such an outlier in Thai society if we have empowerment and live in a barrier-free ambience. These days, it’s very hard for people with disabilities to live among the able-bodied. One day, it will be an inclusive society – one where no one is left behind,” says Professor Wiriya Namsiripongpan, president of the Universal Foundation for People with Disabilities.
A HELPING HAND
- To support the construction of the Asean Disability Training Centre in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai go to http://yimsoo.org/nooneleftbehind.html.