For the young footballers, aged only between 11 and 16, the transformation that they have been through in a just a period of slightly over a month is nothing short of being dramatic and breathtaking.
The moment they and their Wild Boars soccer team coach decided to enter Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai after a routine soccer training session on the afternoon of June 23, 2018, their lives would never be the same again.
As the series of pictures here show, they disappeared into the cave as a group of young and energetic footballers ready for an adventure. But when they were seen again by the world, they had turned into skinny and obviously undernourished boys on the verge of meeting an unthinkable fate. What happened next was something the world had never seen – a frantic and high-risk rescue operation that transfixed the whole world.
When the boys and their coach re-appeared, they were in patient outfits recuperating at Chiang Rai Hospital and in high spirits and yet still commanding the attention of the whole world. And the moment that everyone was waiting for came about less than two weeks later when they showed up in a press conference, dressed up in their Moo Pa soccer team uniforms, passing and bouncing balls as if their Tham Luang cave ordeal was something of a distant past.
They remained in the spotlight the day they shredded off their soccer uniforms to enter the monkhood at a widely-publicized ordination ceremony at a local temple in Mae Sai district. And the day they returned to their worldly lives 10 days later was no less celebrated.
On Monday, the boys finally returned to where they truly belong – their class-rooms. And the intense media coverage of their first day at school is an indication that they will not be left alone for quite some time no matter what they do.
Both national and local authorities have urged the media to give them some quiet time considering the traumatic experience they have all gone through. But given the attention they are still getting – don’t forget all the offers from movie and production houses, the invitation to compete in Thailand Youth League, and the never-ending media interest — it’s hard to imagine how they will be able to go back to their boyhood life again soon.