The fact that all 12 of the trapped soccer players in Thailand are safe and healthy isn’t just good luck.
On July 6, the Thai Navy SEALs posted a photo to their Facebook page of a note written by the Wild Boars coach Ekkapol Chantawong. The 25-year-old has been inside the cave with the 12 boys ever since they first went missing on June 23 during a hike after soccer practice.
"To all the parents, all the kids are still fine. I promise to take the very best care of the kids," he wrote in a note given to a rescue diver. "Thank you for all the moral support and I apologize to the parents."
Chantawong and the young boys have been through so much. Thankfully, eight of them have already been freed and efforts to rescue the remaining four players and their coach are expected to resume as soon as possible.
But instead of blaming the young soccer coach, many of those who know him best, including parents of the players, are sharing stories of his generosity and compassion.
Chantawong’s early life was changed by tragedy. Now he’s being called a hero.
Unfortunately, Chantawong is all too familiar with tragedy. When he was only 10, a disease wiped out his entire village, including his parents and brother.
His aunt Umporn Sriwichai was his only surviving family member. She eventually sent him to a Buddhist temple, where he underwent a decade of training to become a monk until he left in 2015.
That’s when he became an assistant coach with the Wild Boars team.
"I always believed that Chantawong would help them keep calm and optimistic," Sriwichai said.
And rather than blame him, most people are praising the former monk for his selfless actions. A popular cartoon in Thailand shows Chantawong cradling 12 "wild boars" in his arms.
His monk training may have helped save their lives
According to various reports, Chantawong has been teaching basic meditation skills to the 12 boys to help them stay calm during their ordeal.
And while it would be expected that he’d stay behind until all the kids were freed anyway, reportedly he doesn’t really have a choice as he is still physically recovering after giving away most of his food and water rations to the kids before they were located by a search and rescue team.
"If he didn't go with them, what would have happened to my child?" said Pornchai Khamluang, a mother of one of the trapped boys. "When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you."
Most of the focus has understandably been on the trapped kids and those trying to rescue them. But their coach has quietly been living his own heroic story that’s worth celebrating.