Daredevils

Report and pictures by: 
Jonathan Choo

Downhill biking is not a sport for the faint-hearted. But that hasn’t stopped one man from sending his adrenaline racing – despite his heart condition. Chef Daniel Sik Kok Nguang, 52, together with 10 other daredevils – call themselves the Riding Kakis. And they are unstoppable when it comes to their love for downhill biking expeditions.

These take place at the Doi Pui Summit in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, where each trail is 8 to 10km long. They ride on some 12 trails on each trip. The team is led by Mr Gary Lee Lai Meng, 52, a marketing manager, who founded the group in 2009. Mr Sik went on his first expedition to Doi Pui with the team in November 2010.

But later that month, when he was riding alone on a local trail, training for his next expedition, he suddenly felt breathless. Halfway through the steep trail, Mr Sik said he started to break into cold sweat. A sharp pain pierced his chest. Mr Sik said: “I didn’t know it was a heart attack because I didn’t have a medical history of heart problems.”

“I thought it was because I didn’t have enough rest after the first trip in November,” he added.

But a week later, when Mr Sik went for a medical check-up, he was diagnosed as a high-risk patient for cardiac arrest at the National University Hospital. He immediately went for coronary angioplasty surgery, a procedure used to open narrow or blocked coronary arteries. Three months later, he was back on the trail at Doi Pui with the team.

The men, whose ages range from 28 to 59, are driven by the same goal: To pursue downhill biking despite all odds. Another member, Mr Nghai Chee Wah, a freelance photographer who is also the oldest member of the group at 59, had two accidents during separate expeditions.

In February this year, he suffered a hairline crack on his right wrist after a fall on a local trail. A month later, during an expedition at Doi Pui, he lost control of his bicycle and fell down a steep slope, ending up with his left hand lodged between two rocks.

Mr Nghai said: “I could hear a loud crack. The pain was unbearable.” He then called for help on his walkie-talkie, and two of his teammates came to his rescue. All members of the team are equipped with walkie-talkies, a whistle and a small torch light, for emergencies, said Mr Lee.

After they freed his hand, one of Mr Nghai’s teammates brought his bike down, while the other supported him to the base of the mountain. He was later

taken to a private hospital in Chiang Mai.

He now has a titanium plate in his left wrist with eight screws. “It took me a month to overcome the fear (of riding),” said Mr Nghai. “Now, I ride with great caution so as not to repeat the same mistake.”

Mr Sik, who describes himself as a family-man, said his 52-year-old wife and two children in their 20s worry for him. But he added: “I have a very strong character and I will do whatever I want to exercise.

“My wife has told me to be careful. But my son said ‘As long as you know what you are doing and are happy, carry on’. “Accidents are inevitable and after every fall, I will take a while to overcome the fear. But I like the challenge of conquering steep slopes.”

This article was first published in The New Paper on November 26, 2012.