If you’ve ever trained in Phuket or joined a running circle in Thailand, chances are you must have heard about the talented and kind-hearted Coach Ricky. Ekkarat Phanthip, his full Thai name, is a wonderful coach and an outstanding Thai triathlete. Based in Phuket, he has trained many Thai celebrities and is the founder of the ‘Born Free to Run’ project for underprivileged children.
First off, tell us a bit more about yourself
I started running when I was 13 years old. At that time, I was just a kid who loved running and dreamed that one day I would become a professional runner. I started doing some competitions at school and received several gold medals, so I kept pushing.
Once I finished vocational school at the Phuket Technical College, I realized that I wanted to pursue my passion, so I searched for a running coach and found one at the Chumphon Campus Physical Education Institute. I decided to develop my running potential there until I graduated. I started working as a tour guide, then moved to the hotel industry, until 2012, when I was hired as a Sports Assistant at Thanyapura.
This is where I met Jürgen Zack, Triathlon Head Coach, and former world triathlon champion. I watched his team training every day and I told him I wanted to be part of it. One day, he contacted me to ask to cover his absence as he had to return to Germany. I then started working as his Triathlon Assistant Coach. I had a great opportunity to train, work, and compete in many races and meet with several professional athletes, who exchanged their experiences with me and helped me develop.
The childhood dream comes true
In 2013, I heard that the Thailand Triathlon Federation was organizing a tryout to select athletes to compete at the Asian Beach Game to represent the Thai national team. I joined the duathlon tryout and qualified for the Thai National Team Duathlon. Also, I received my triathlon coach certificate in the same year by passing the International Triathlon Union (ITU).
Beyond the childhood dream
Later, I competed in one of the biggest races of my life, the Powerman Asia Championships 2013. It was my first time competing outside the country. I was so excited. I remember there were about 800 athletes. There were both short and long distances and I chose the short one as I just wanted to try. I remember that my legs were shaking at the starting point. I started running and my heart was racing. After cycling, we were all running to the finishing line. I looked back and the number 2 was still a good distance away. My eyes were a bit teary with pride. I remember the moment I held the Thai flag and crossed the finishing line as the 1st winner overall. I ended up finishing first again in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Born Free to Run has begun
In 2013, three years before I was promoted to be Head Coach, I founded the Born Free to Run project – a team that works with local underprivileged children and I spent time after work coaching the children.
Many of them have qualified at the national level. Also, some children in the team come from families that don’t have time for them. Some of these kids stayed with friends that use drugs. I tried to bring them into the team and once they had become great at running, they would leave this bad influence entirely.
Three skills required for triathlon
Most of the triathletes are not good at all three skills; some may be good at one skill, some may be good at two, but very few are good at all of them. However, triathlon is very challenging and the person who finishes swimming first can be overtaken when cycling or running.
To me, the hardest part of a triathlon is running because it is the last session. The body is already tired from swimming and cycling, so it can be difficult to manage. Fortunately for me, running is the part that I am good at.
The beauty of a triathlon is to challenge yourself and it is also a great way to make some new friends along the way, who are supportive and loving.
How is it like training Toon Bodyslam?
There is no need to say much with P’Toon. Mostly, he is the one who talks and it is mostly about attitude. I’m very grateful every time I run by his side and train with him. With his great attitude and strong determination, plus his positive energy, the result is always wonderful. Coaching Toon Bodyslam is like exchanging knowledge because he also coaches me about attitude and life.
Apart from Toon Bodyslam, which other celebrities have you coached?
There is Tono [Phakin Khamwilaisak], who trained swimming with me. I think he will have a project soon. Also, P’Lookkade Metinee [Metinee Kingpayome Sharples], who has just finished the Berlin Marathon. This was her first-ever marathon and I am so proud of her. If you follow her, you should know that she is always busy and does not have a lot of time to train. She was injured before the race, which made me worried a bit, but in the end, she finished the marathon. She is a real tough one. She does not have a lot of time to train but when she trains, she is really determined.
What’s the most important thing makes a coach from good to great?
I think attitude is the key. I never cared if the athlete I coach is talented or not. I coach everyone who comes to me no matter who they are. Another important thing is being open-minded; when both sides open to each other, we can move forward together and the training will be more efficient.
Born Free to Run from now on
No matter where I am, I will continue the project because I meant to do it from the beginning and I believe that everyone in my team who is coaching the children is still happy to volunteer and dedicate their time to this charity. There are currently 15 athletes in our team, which are both runners and cyclists, from 10 to 20 years old.
We are a non-profit organization that aims to help underprivileged children, so we are still looking for support from people who understand and agree with our mission to send these local kids to a national level by sponsoring them for registration fees, traveling fees, their training clothes, so they can reach their goal.
People say sports cannot be a career
When I was younger, my family did not understand why I was running. I only knew that I loved to run and dreamed that one day, I would be a national team member. It took a lot of commitments before I became a national team runner for real.
I want to tell the younger generation that when you love doing something, be determined and commit to it. Some victories will not come to you within one or two years. It is a matter of opportunity and one day, when the opportunity comes, you will be ready to grab it and succeed. Don’t compare yourself with others. Run at your own pace and never be hard on yourself. I’ve been in the sports field for more than 20 years and many people only see my beginning and my achievements: not a lot of people see what I have been through along the way.
Born Free to Tri
Born Free to Tri is my shop that sells everything about triathlon, including swimming, cycling, and running equipment and wears. We have cycling services as well. I want Born Free to Run members to have extra income to study and spend their time working here.
The shop is located nearby the heroine monument, opposite the Shell gas station. It is open daily, except Mondays, from 9:00 am till 7:00 pm. Everyone is welcome to visit and talk with us about sports and their passions.