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Monday
Jul082019

Whirlwind year for Wild Boars soccer team after rescue from flooded Thai cave

JITTRAPON KAICOME/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A year after an international team of divers pulled off one of the most dramatic rescues that the world has ever seen, the beneficiaries of the life-saving mission -- 12 members of the Wild Boars youth soccer team and their coach -- have yet to escape the spotlight focused on them since they were safely extracted from a flooded cave in the jungles of Thailand.

The players and their coach have traveled the world as ambassadors of the global feel-good story, inked a TV miniseries deal, and even jetted to Los Angeles to make an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"I got so many experiences after I got out of the cave," one of the boys, Pornchai Kamluang, told reporters last month. "I learned everything about the Thai people, especially our unity. It's indescribable. My life has changed a lot."

Monday marks the one-year anniversary when rescuers emerged from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand with the first four boys. Two days later, on July 10, 2018, all 12 youngsters and their coach were out of the cave, setting off jubilation for people around the world who had closely followed the search for the team and the challenging quest to save them.

The ordeal began on June 23, 2018, when assistant coach Ekapol Chantawong led the players on a post-soccer practice expedition into the subterranean maze with little food or supplies. The adventure was supposed to last just a few hours, but as the team turned around to go home, they found that monsoon rains had suddenly hit and flooded their only path out of the labyrinth.

Word of the lost team quickly spread and rescuers from around the world, including the U.S. Air Force 353rd Special Operations unit in Okinawa, and dive teams from Great Britain, Australia, Japan, China and elsewhere, converged on Thailand's Chiang Rai province with the goal of finding the boys and their coach, and safely extracting them from the bowels of the cave.

On July 2, 2018, 10 days after the group went missing, two divers from the British Cave Rescue Council, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, were stringing a safety rope through a flooded area of the cave when they popped up in a cavern and, to their surprise, saw all 12 boys and their coach huddled on a small beach in the darkness.

Since their rescue, the boys and their coach have become celebrities and traveled the world to express gratitude to all those who answered the call to save them.

Here are eight things the group has done since getting out of the cave:

July 18, 2018: The boys and their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, were released from a hospital where they had been quarantined since their rescue, and held a news conference to detail how they survived. They also thanked the rescuers for saving them, and expressed condolences to the family of Lt. Col. Saman Gunan, the retired Thai Navy SEAL diver who died during the rescue mission.

Aug. 8, 2018: Chanthawong and three of the soccer players -- Adul Samon, Mongkol Boonpiam and Pornchai Kamluang -- who had all been born stateless, were granted citizenship in Thailand during a special government ceremony in their home district of Mae Sai.

Oct. 6, 2018: The team flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they participated in the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, called the boys “brave” and said they “showed us all the importance of sports values.”

Oct. 14, 2018: The Wild Boars soccer team traveled to Los Angeles and made an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where DeGeneres presented them with special soccer jerseys and introduced them to one of their favorite soccer players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy. “This team is more brave than me. And they show their collective teamwork. … This is probably the best team in the world,” Ibrahimovic told the players and their coach.

Oct. 30, 2018: The players and their coach appeared on the ITV news program This Morning in Great Britain and were reunited with three of the British divers who helped rescue them -- Jason Mallison, Joshua Bratchley and Connor Roe. Mallison recalled giving the team two alternatives while still in the cave: "We told them you've got two options here: it's dive out and this is how we're going to do it, or ... stay in here but it's very likely you're not going to survive."

May 1: Streaming giant Netflix announced it had reached a deal with the players and their coach to create a miniseries of their rescue to be directed by Jon M. Chu, the filmmaker behind the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians.

May 26: One of the boys, Adul Samon, was invited to attend commencement ceremonies at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he was presented with the college’s first-ever Global Citizen’s Award. Laurie Patton, president of the college, said Adul was honored for showing a leadership role by using the little English he knew to help interpret for his coach and teammates what rescuers were telling them during the cave ordeal. “Our intention is to recognize a person who, through their communication skills and compassion, are able to change the world with no expectation of being in the limelight," Patton said.

June 23: The team returned to the mouth of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, where they honored Saman Gunan during a Buddhist ceremony. Gunan's widow, Valepon Gunan, told the boys she believes her husband "is still looking over all of them."

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