How the human spirit enabled the Thai cave rescue

PHOTO CREDIT: Wilson Lee Flores Philippine Star

Thank goodness, amid all the bad news about geopolitical conflict, the global oil price jump causing inflation and even acrimonious trade wars, there is the extraordinary Thai cave rescue of the 12 boys of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) football team and their assistant coach after 18 days underground.

A great football story against the background of the World Cup

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While the world’s most popular and most beautiful spectator sport, football, was holding its once-every-four-years World Cup in Russia, another, more dramatic, heart-tugging football story was unfolding inside the flooded six-mile Tham Luang cave in the Doi Nang Non mountain range of Chiang Rai province, north Thailand.

This suspenseful rescue effort made global news and was followed closely by media daily, almost minute by excruciating minute.

It was not only a national effort — 110 Thai Navy SEAL divers got international help from American, Australian, British, and Chinese divers, other military members, engineers, medics and emergency personnel. About 1,000 people were involved in the elaborate, difficult and dangerous rescue operation.

Three heroes

Three persons in the Thai cave rescue have inspired me the most: the 38-year-old Thai ex-Navy diver, triathlete Sgt. Saman Gunan, a volunteer who died while delivering oxygen canisters to the trapped boys and their coach so they could breathe; the 14-year-old English/Thai/Mandarin-speaking stateless refugee boy from Myanmar and top honor student Adul Sam-on, who stoically played a key role in the success of the rescue; and the 25-year-old assistant coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, a stateless refugee orphaned as a kid, who selflessly withheld food and water for himself so his 12 boys could eat and drink more.

He also taught the boys Asia’s ancient tradition of meditation for their physical and emotional survival.

Meditation to overcome stress & boost survival

Stanford University’s Leah Weiss said meditation probably saved them, “given that insufficient air and food was a major issue for the trapped boys; meditation is actually a very practical response to both of these concerns.” She added that meditation is a kind of mental training that enhances focus and compassion; calms people by slowing down heart rate, breathing and metabolism; decreasing cortisol levels, oxygen utilization and carbon dioxide emission.

After 10 days of frantically searching monsoon-flooded caves, two British divers found the group sitting in the dark, meditating. After seeing a video of them in the dark cave with the lack of food and oxygen, one boy’s mother observed that they looked serene: “Look at how calm they were, sitting there waiting. No one was crying or anything. It was astonishing.”

These three persons, the other Wild Boars football boys and their many rescuers, and their amazing collective saga of fortitude, self-sacrifice, guts, team spirit and the will to live should reinforce our faith in God and humanity.

Thanks for your feedback! Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Buy and read Pilipino STAR Ngayon every Friday for my column “Kuwentong Panadero” on inspiring stories.

(Wilson Lee Flores is an award-winning writer, journalist, Kamuning Bakery artisanal breads savior, and Pandesal Forum moderator. This column was previously posted on his Bull Market Bull Sheet column on the Philippine Star. His writings are reposted with the permission of the author on every Wednesday.)

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