Lan Yin "Eiko" Tsai, attired in a classy dress and pumps, is a standout among the spandex-clad crowd at New Jersey's City to Shore, a 150-mile bike ride that benefits multiple sclerosis research. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. The spry, petite 84-year old has been biking the event for the past 26 years, and this is her normal riding uniform.
Riding a vintage one-speed purple bicycle outfitted with a wire basket on the front that holds her possessions, Tsai certainly makes a memorable splash. But it is her spirit of volunteerism and determination, spanning over two decades, that makes her a venerable symbol of the event.
It all started when Tsai began to work in a hospital many years ago. A native of Taiwan, she was trained in Japan in the art of shiatsu massage. So while working at the hospital, "I started to put my hands where they hurt," she says. Tsai began regularly giving massages to cancer patients, until one day, about 26 years ago, she massaged a patient with MS. It was then and there that she first heard about the bike ride and decided to participate.
Tsai's commitment is significant, as the National Conference on Citizenship has found that 72 percent of Americans are volunteering fewer hours since the recession began over a year ago. Her extraordinary efforts have not gone unnoticed:
In 2008, Tsai's family honored her commitment by creating a team in the bike ride called "Team Eiko." Sim says17 riders, all family and friends "from all over the place," joined the team to participate in the ride, and returned this year. The 2009 City to Shore ride raised more than $5 million for MS research and care, and Team Eiko was responsible for more than $6,000 of that. Sim says his grandmother's determination is inspirational for both the other riders and the MS patients themselves.
Follow Tsai's lead and find a Bike MS ride near you.