Amazon Prime’s ‘Thirteen Lives’ is set in a village in Northern Thailand where twelve boys and their coach are trapped in an unforgiving environment. Following the soccer practice, they visit the Tham Luang cave, which floods due to unexpectedly heavy rainfall. The whole world comes together to rescue them, with different people taking charge of various tasks, all of extremely important nature, to ensure the safe rescue of the thirteen trapped people. While everyone outside holds their breath to discover their fate, inside the cave, coach Ekkapol Chantawong tries to keep the boys calm and unafraid amidst the blinding darkness, the reducing oxygen, and the rising water level. His actions keep the boys alive and well enough before the rescue arrives, more than a week later. If you’re wondering what happened to the coach after this, here’s what you should know.
Where is Coach Ekkapol “Ake” Chantawong Today?
Ekkapol Chantawong lives in Mae Sai, a village in the Chiang Rai Province of Northern Thailand. Prior to the Tham Luang incident, he’d been a stateless person, but almost a month after the rescue, he, along with a few other boys in the team, received Thai citizenship. The lack of citizenship had previously put a limit on travel and job opportunities for them, while also depriving them of basic rights and benefits. Being a citizen now has opened more doors. Chantawong, who is currently self-employed, is making use of these perks. He has founded a new football club called the Ekkapol Academy, through which he trains young players.
Following the rescue, the coach and his team became local celebrities, while also appearing on international platforms to talk about their experience. Their appearance on The Ellen Show gave them the opportunity to meet LA Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimović, who invited them to practice with the team while giving them VIP tickets to attend a game. As documentaries and movies were proposed on their story, the Thai government established the 13 Tham Luang Co Ltd to represent them and look after their interests in movie deals and such.
On the first anniversary of their rescue, the coach and his team ran the commemorative marathon. The twelve boys also spent some time in the monastery where they were ordained, while Chantawong received the monk’s orders. His almost a decade-long experience in the monastery as a monk, before he became a soccer coach, became an important factor in keeping all thirteen of them alive and sane until they were eventually found. Chantawong, who gave almost all of his food to the boys to keep them in better shape, suffered malnutrition following the rescue.
The incident brought him into the limelight, with everyone either praising him for taking care of the kids or blaming him for landing them in such trouble in the first place. The families of the boys, however, have stood by him. “If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.” His longtime friend, Joy Khampai said: “He loved them more than himself. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke. He was the kind of person who looked after himself and who taught the kids to do the same.”
Chantawong confessed that the experience has taught him to be more vigilant and “to live life more carefully”. These days, he has become a more private person, trying to live a quiet life, especially after being constantly under the lens for a long time after the rescue. He also feels grateful for all the people who came together from all corners of the world to save him and the boys. “I want to thank everybody who has put so much effort and sacrifices to save all of us,” he said.