Rescue in Thailand : In the last five years, Ekapol Chanthawong has spent much of his time in Wat Phra That Doi Wao, a Thai Buddhist temple on the border with Myanmar.
The football coach who was trapped with 12 of his pupils in a cave in northern Thailand for 18 days, used to get up early to take care of his grandmother, who resided in the Burmese city of Tachileik.
Then he crossed the border to go to the temple where he helped to clean and organize Buddhist ceremonies . At four in the afternoon I was going to train, once there were no more ceremonies or things to do in the temple.
Prakhruprayutchetiyanukan, the acting abbot of the Buddhist center, described him as a “kind and friendly person, who rarely complained, was not at all stubborn and who neither drinks nor smokes”.
From monk to coach
Nopparat Kantawong, the head trainer of the Wild Boars, had known Chanthawong’s family since he was just a child. They lost contact when he was ordained a monk .
But five years ago they met again.
“I had stopped being a monk by then, I did not remember him because we had lost contact long ago, he was the one who came and introduced himself while he was training with the kids,” says Nopparat.
“He loves to exercise and loves children, he also likes volunteering and always showed interest in being an assistant coach, he suggested that we do exercises with children in their free time to keep them away from drugs and other problems.”
From villain to hero
On June 23, Chanthawong and 12 other members of the Wild Boars team between 11 and 16 years old, grabbed their bikes to go explore the Tham Luang cave in the Thai town of Mae Sai.
When it was learned that the teenagers were missing, everyone’s first reaction was anger: why the coach had taken them there if it was so dangerous?
But as soon as the first divers found the boys, more than a week after they were missing, the perception of the technician changed.
The videos in which the children could be seen in good health made many wonder how they had survived and what was the role of the once vilified coach.
Abbot Prakhruprayutcheyyanukan believes thatsati ( mindfulness or mindfulness ) and samadhi (a state of meditative awareness) were key to the survival of the group.
Chanthawong had been ordained a novice monk and completed the highest level of Pali studies : the sacred language of many religious texts of Hinduism and of the Buddhist doctrine called Theravada.
“In the monastery, he learned the basics of mindfulness, those who have not been trained would be desperate, crying while waiting for help.”
“But the more they cry,” he adds, “the more their energy runs out.” Chanthawong may cry silently, so that no one would hear him, but the need to protect the 12 boys he had in charge kept him on his feet.
The Thai Navy Seals that participated in the rescue operation also point to meditation as a possible explanation for their survival.
Commander Apakorn Yookongkaew said he could have helped calm the children, reducing the use of oxygen. Meditation is key to controlling breathing and reducing stress and anxiety .
It is a technique widely used in diving , which can help to save oxygen on long and difficult trips under water.
The coach, like the 12 teenagers, is now recovering in the hospital from the possible consequences and effects for his health that he may have had to remain so long underground and in such a humid and dark environment.
Parents say they have forgiven , but sporting director wild boars think you may be prompted to return to spend some time in the monastery, which is common among Thai people to do penance or purified spiritually.
In social networks, support has also been significant to the technician.
A particularly popular tweet said Chanthawong would be a great boyfriend , as he had proved himself capable of caring for 12 children and remaining calm under extreme pressure.
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