It’s hard to believe that it’s already been one year since the daring Tham Luang cave rescue that captivated the world and put Thailand and the humble community of Mae Sai on the international stage. The events of those few weeks from June 23 to July 10 continue to have an enormous impact on many of those involved, most of all the 13 boys and their coach who were trapped in the cave and faced grim odds of being rescued. As CMRCA works not only to train members of the rescue community in Thailand but also to support the establishment of caving standards throughout the country, the Tham Luang cave rescue continues to play an important role in our direction as a company as well as in our collective consciousness as a premiere provider of caving, rock climbing, and rescue services and certifications in Thailand.
This past weekend, CMRCA had the privilege of participating in the first annual Tham Luang 2019 Run and Bike event at Tham Luang in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai. Not only were the energy and buzz at the event a stark contrast to the grim intensity which defined much of the cave rescue, being back at the cave site also brought up a lot of memories for CMRCA staff Mario Wild, who was a crucial member of the team CMRCA sent up to aid in the rescue effort. This team, made up of Josh (CMRCA founder and CEO), Taw, Add, and Mario, worked alongside the large number of organizations and teams from around the world who came together to provide their support. On Friday night, we arrived to an empty parking lot just before dusk to begin unloading the gear and equipment we would be showcasing at our booth the next day. As the sun went down and the relative calm of our surroundings became more apparent, Mario noted that he had never seen the place so quiet. Reflecting on the chaos, fear, and sheer volume of human presence he had experienced just one year before, Mario seemed almost perplexed that under normal circumstances the cave and surrounding forest could be so serene.
The atmosphere on Friday was certainly not an indicator of what was to come the next day. The event kicked off on Saturday morning with booths and vendors opening up shop in wait of the over 5000 runners and cyclists who were expected to show up for registration. It wasn’t long before people began flowing in to register for the race on Sunday, as well as to snap some pictures of the newly constructed museum and memorial dedicated to the Tham Luang Cave rescue and the honored Thai Navy Seal diver Ja Sam (Lietuenant Sam), who paid the ultimate price in his service to rescue the trapped boys. Our booth’s highlight was an interactive replica of the same rope and stretcher system that Taw, Mario, and Add helped to construct in Chamber 2 of Tham Luang. This system was used to extract the boys from the final chambers after they had completed the dive portion of their rescue from the cave. Passersby at the event were eager to get a photo, chat with Taw and Mario, and enquire “Was this really what they used in the cave!?” Always a crowd favorite, kids enjoyed playing our “rodeo clip” game, where they were challenged to swing a climbing rope round and round in an attempt to clip the rope into a suspended quick draw. As always, CMRCA aims to promote sustainability wherever possible, and as such we were happy to provide free drinking water at our water bottle refill station, which proved to be quite popular, and hopefully inspired people to forego reaching for that single-use plastic water bottle. We left Saturday hot, tired, and excited for the main event to begin early Sunday morning.
If you have ever been to a running or cycling event in Thailand, you know that they start EARLY. In an attempt to beat the heat, the running events at began at 6:00am, with booths and park entry opening at 4:00am. At 5:00 am, we arrived to a scene of organized chaos which I can only imagine must have somewhat resembled what the thousands of volunteers and rescue professionals experienced last year. Hundreds of runners and cyclists made their way up the long driveway into the park entrance, where an enormous crowd was already waiting in excited anticipation for the main event to begin. We quickly set up our booth, while Chris and Mario prepped for the 6KM and 10KM runs, respectively. Finishing their events, they joined the CMRCA booth to continue chatting with the hundreds runners and cyclists mulling about. Sunday saw a number of government officials and high ranking military officers at the event, many of whom had been directly involved in the cave rescue and who’s photos are currently plastered in murals and posters around the area. Several of the “Moo Baa” (the name given to the 13 boys rescued from Tham Luang and of their school football team) even showed up with their coach to pose for photos and answer questions. The whole thing felt a little surreal, as just one year ago those same boys were there in the same place but in such a different situation. Nevertheless, the atmosphere on Sunday was one of excitement and celebration that all 13 boys and their coach had been rescued successfully, and that they could be there on Sunday to tell their story.
Sometime mid-morning, walking around in search of some of free pineapple we were had been seeing around, Mario paused to comment that what we were seeing on Sunday looked just like it did during the cave rescue. On one side of the parking lot you had a row of busy food vendors, flanked by big green army trucks serving up hot food out of massive frying pans. Behind the stage was the VIP section, where Mario noted the makeshift hospital had been set up the year before. Government and army officials came and went with their entourages. The cave rescue in 2018 brought together thousands of people from all over the world in a singular effort, dubbed “Mission Possible”, to rescue 13 boys and their coach from what seemed at the time like certain death. Despite the incredible odds, hundreds of volunteers from around the world came together to accomplish what was initially considered to be impossible. This past weekend, that same event brought together nearly 5000 people who share a common passion for health, fitness, and their community. Here’s to hoping that the Tham Luang cave rescue and the sacrifices made by all those involved will continue to bring people together, “United as One” for years to come.
A big thank you to CMRCA staff White, EQ, Aey, Taw, Mario and Chris for their support at the Tham Luang 2019 Bike and Run Event and at the CMRCA booth this past weekend. A special thanks also goes out to Progression Equipment staff Por and Nui for their support in managing the CMRCA/Progression booths, and providing equipment for sale and display!