63-year-old overcomes cancer on a skateboard

  • Thailand
  • Tuesday, 29 Sep 2020

Healing wheels: Jeab boarding along a stretch of an unfinished highway in Bangkok. — AFP

CRUISING along on an empty Bangkok highway, 63-year-old Nongluck Chairuettichai – the oldest member of Thailand’s longboard national team – says taking up the sport set her on the road to recovery from breast cancer.

Diagnosed a decade ago, Nongluck – who goes by the nickname Jeab – had surgery and chemotherapy, her body withering to skin and bones.

“But when you skate every day, you can feel your body becoming stronger and healthier. It helped with recovery tremendously,” Jeab said, as she straps on her knee and elbow pads.

Jeab first picked up a board out of curiosity, after watching her son Soteera whirling about in the park.

While most novices initially tremble on the wooden plank, Jeab’s good balance helped her push off with confidence.

“She’s always been the adventurous type, so I was not surprised at all that she wanted to longboard,” her 37-year-old son says.

The mother of two says she became “addicted” to the sport, which is typically dominated by teenage boys.

She quickly became known in the capital’s small longboarding community and was competing in tournaments within months.

Last year, Jaeb qualified for Thailand’s national longboard team – the oldest member ever to join the squad.

Team director Apichat Rutnin said: “She’s an inspiration to a lot of people, especially girls. Now you can see that more girls, from youths to adults, have started to get involved in board sports.”

Every day Jaeb searches for new skating spots around Bangkok – a traffic-clogged metropolis with limited terrain for board sports.

On a closed section between two freeways, she and her son do stretches before strapping on safety gear.

She tucks herself into a half-crouch on her board, rendering her body more streamlined to whizz faster downhill.

“When I’m cruising, I feel free,” she says, as she shows off a tattoo on her forearm that roughly translates as “longboard lover”.

She added: “It feels like I’m leaving everything behind, all the troubles and the conflicts in life.”

At first, only her family was supportive. Many other skateboarders, even her friends, tried to discourage her from pursuing the sport. But she persevered until she won acceptance.

Soteera says watching his mother battle cancer made him realise how strong she is.

“I’m worried about her because she’s old, but being too worried until she cannot do anything is not a good way to care for someone. She has to live her life,” he said.

Today, Jeab appears to follow the philosophy tattooed on her calf: “Don’t wait to be cool.”

Rocking trendy owlish frames, she hikes up the highway for another spin downhill.

At tournaments, she does not focus on breaking speed records.

Her goal is peace of mind.

“I skate for my happiness. That’s all and that’s enough,” she said.


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