Everyone has a favorite team and in America, rivalries are huge at any level. Usually, it takes a tragedy to cause us to be on the same team for at least a few moments. Thankfully, there was no tragedy last week, but the entire world was on the same team, championing the same cause, and celebrating the same victory. This does not occur often. Politics, opinions, cultural differences, and apathy often divide us, not only internationally, but in our neighborhoods, cities and individual nations. Last week was different. The entire world was cheering for the same team, a football (soccer) team, the Wild Boars, a group of 12 Thai children ranging in age from 11 to 17, along with their 25-year-old coach.
Tham Luang Cave was not unfamiliar to this group of typical, adventure-seeking boys. In fact, it was a place they knew well. Exploring the tunnels, nooks and crannies of the cave was something that the boys did often. It was as natural to them as exploring the banks and adjoining woodlands of the Tombigbee River would be to any of our sons here in Clarke and Washington counties.
On June 23, they entered the cave with one purpose in mind—to celebrate a teammate’s birthday. They took their torches and only planned to stay for an hour before returning home to their respective families. After all, monsoon season did not officially begin until July. A flash flood changed the trajectory of the trip and resulted in the group being forced to go deeper into the cave where they remained for 18 days as the world watched.
While family members, teachers and friends held vigil at the mouth of the cave where 13 abandoned bicycles served as a reminder of the missing children; the boys moved deeper into the cave with only their torches. A former monk, Coach Ake, taught the boys meditation techniques to both keep them calm and to use as little air as possible.
Can you imagine children in this age group being forced to lie still for survival? This was the reality. The children had to conserve their strength. The also had to conserve the air. The cave offered nothing in the form of nourishment, but a trickle of fresh water offered hydration and hope.
It would be eight days before divers were able to locate the group and to determine that they were all alive. Millions worldwide would watch the video of the divers speaking to the boys and leaving lights with them. The divers promised to return, but the reality of this seemed both impossible and improbable. Rain, murky waters, darkness and the treacherous, narrow contours of the cave all posed safety and logistical threats. Oh, and some of the children could not swim. Remember, they were only going to play in that familiar place for an hour.
A gathering of international volunteers assembled at the mouth of the cave. Scientists and military personnel met to determine the best strategies for rescue. Time and oxygen were of the essence and according to the locals, the cave was usually completely flooded by July 10. And so it was on Sunday, July 8 that a decision was made. The rescue attempts would begin.
As many around the world left home and headed for their places of worship, their minds were half a world away, wondering how and if the rescue efforts would be successful. The rescuers brought individual children to safety, one at a time, through the most unimaginable of conditions as the world watched, holding its breath.
It was Tuesday, July 10 before all of the children and their coach were brought to the surface of the earth. July 10, the date by which the cave is usually flooded. As the last of the rescuers were leaving the site, the floodwaters rushed into the cranny of the cave that had held the team for more than two weeks.
The world cheered. For a few days, we were all fans of the same team, the Wild Boars. We applauded the resiliency of the boys and their coach. We hailed the tenacity of the scientists. We cheered the valor of the divers. We mourned the loss of Thai Navy Seal and volunteer, Saman Kunan, who lost his life while delivering oxygen tanks to the boys. We stood united in the hope that 13 lives would be saved.
The Thai Navy Seals posted the following on their social media outlets, “We are not sure if this is a miracle, science or what.”
As a fan of the Thai Wild Boars, I am a bit more thankful for science and technology, and always, always grateful for miracles.
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Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.