It's almost been two months since the world was captivated by news of a Thai boys' soccer team trapped in an underwater cave, uncertain if they would get out alive to tell their story.

Cut to the present. All 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team reunited at Wat Phra Doi Wao Temple in Mae Sai, Thailand, where ABC held a Thai government-approved exclusive interview.

The questions were carefully reviewed to protect the psychological and emotional well-being of the survivors. Many spoke candidly for the first time since they were released from the hospital.

"I would like to thank everybody. You all love me and I love everyone," said Adul Samon, 14. "I feel like people around the world are my parents."

We learned about love by receiving love from everyone.

After practice on June 23, coach Ek, 25, took the soccer team spelunking through the cave's various chambers, including one known as "the hidden city" and another called "the underwater city."

"At first I was excited that I was going [to the cave] and have an adventure," Somphong Jaiwong, 13, told ABC.

The youngest, Chanin "Titan" Viboonrungruang, 11, had some reservations.

At the beginning, it was exciting. And it's a little bit frightening.

Since the boys expected a short expedition inside the subterranean labyrinth, they didn't pack extra food or clothing. When a sudden storm flooded the passageways they found themselves trapped inside.

"When we went in and got stuck in the cave, at that moment, we saw water. It's full of water," coach Ek recalled.

I then volunteered to dive to find out if I could go through or not. If I could go through then everybody is saved. So, we used the rope that we brought with us.

He instructed the boys to follow his signal after going into the water.

I told the boys that if I signaled by pulling the rope twice, it means pulling me back because there was not enough oxygen.

The boys ended up pulling him back. After realizing the severity of their situation, Ek thought of another tactic to keep the boys calm.

From the beginning that I knew that we were stuck in the cave, I first tried to regain my composure. I tried not to tell the boys that we got stuck in the cave. I only told them something positive.
I told the boys that we just had to wait for a bit longer, then the water may go down and we could get out. I tried not to make them panic. If I told them that we got stuck in the cave, the boys would get panicked.

As the water rose, the boys had to travel farther to find dry ground. As their options became increasingly limited, Ek turned to the power of prayer.

"Praying has become more like my own habit," he said. "It's standard when these boys are staying at my house. Before bed, I invite them to pray. This gives us good sleep, and stops us thinking about other things."

On July 2, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton from the British Cave Rescue Council discovered the boys.

Adul, one of the boys who could speak a little English, was thrilled over making contact.

I was shocked. I was overwhelmed and didn't know what to say. I was happy.

As the rescue team finalized their plan, Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan lost consciousness while delivering air tanks through the flooded tunnels. He died on July 6.

After three days of navigating the dark waters, each boy equipped with an oxygen tank and accompanied by a specialist, the team made it out of the tunnels to safety.

On July 10, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

At the hospital, the boys were quarantined while undergoing physical examinations. Titan saw his parents through the window and broke down.

I was very happy to see my dad and my mom. I feel warmer. I was very happy. I cried.

The boys shared their aspirations with ABC.

"I want to be a mechanic, to fix cars," said Mongkhon "Mark" Boonpiam, 13.

"I want to be a Navy SEAL," said Ekkarat "Biw" Wongsukchan, 14.

"I want to be an architect," said Natthawut "Tle" Thakhamsong, 14.

Coach Ek wrapped up the interview by expressing his gratitude on behalf of his team.

"I would like to express my gratitude for people from the whole world, officials, and volunteers that came to help us."

"We promise that we will be good citizens to society. We will study, and we will love people around the world the same way the whole world loves the 13 of us. Thank you."

H/T - ABC, Twitter, BBC

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

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