Last month, the world watched in fascination as twelve young soccer players and their coach were rescued from a cave in Thailand. While that amazing story unfolded, it got me thinking of another miraculous rescue eight years ago: The 2010 Copiapó mining accident.
On Thursday, August 5, 2010, a copper mine in the desert of northern Chile collapsed. Thirty-three men were trapped under 2,300 feet of rock and dirt, with limited space, air, and provisions. While reading about the accident, I was struck by what the miners did not only to survive, but to keep up their morale. I realized their story is a wonderful example of how to overcome adversity and weather hardship. While none of us, hopefully, will ever find ourselves trapped in a mine, we will all face challenges in life that test our resolve. We may also have to contend with natural disasters at some point. When that happens, here are some of the lessons we can learn from those Chilean miners.
After the cave-in, the first thing the miners did was get organized. After gathering in an emergency shelter, they took stock of their available supplies. They collected emergency rations and first aid items, then looked for truck batteries and other functional equipment. They established areas for sleeping, recreation, dining, and waste-disposal.
When we face hardship, it’s easy to feel like things have spiraled out of control. One of the first things we can do to regain control is to get organized.
The miners were low on food, water, and light. Rather than despair over what they didn’t have, they maximized what they did. Although their food was only meant to last for a few days, the miners rationed everything carefully. By consuming only “two little spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, and a biscuit” every forty-eight hours, the miners were able to make their food last for two weeks. In addition, the miners obtained water from vehicle radiators, and used truck batteries to power their hard hat lamps.
Sometimes, adversity may seem impossible to overcome. By making use of what you do have, instead of bemoaning what you don’t, we often realize that everything we need is already at hand.
One of the first things that can break down in a disaster is order. To ensure that wouldn’t happen, the miners implemented a one-man, one-vote form of democracy. “We knew that if society broke down, we would all be doomed,” said one miner. Every man had a job, ensuring they all worked together to maintain living conditions and morale.
Retaining order and discipline can spell the difference between conquering a challenge or being overwhelmed by it.
It’s easier to maintain order and organization if a strong leader is present. For the miners, that leader was Luis Urzua, their 54-year-old shift foreman. Urzua divided his men into three groups and kept them all occupied with 12-hour shifts. He brought a sense of normalcy to the situation by designating a white pickup truck as the “office” and by turning the lights on at regular times to simulate daylight. He instituted a daily schedule and kept spirits light by showing humor and confidence at all times.
“It’s been a bit of a long shift,” he deadpanned when rescuers discovered them.
Some people have faith in a deity. Others have faith in a cause. But whatever our beliefs, all of us can have faith in ourselves and in each other.
“As a group, we had to keep faith, we had to keep hope, we had to all believe that we would survive,” one miner said.
Sometimes, the most crucial step in overcoming adversity is to simply have faith that you will.
When misfortune strikes, you can either tackle it alone, or lean on others for help. The miners chose the second option. “Each day, a different person took a bad turn,” one miner later explained. “Every time that happened, we worked as a team to try to keep the morale up.” Each man knew that it was his job to support the weakest – so that when his turn came, he would be supported, too.
One miner, a former professional soccer player, said the group acted like a team. “We pulled together when things got rough, when there was nothing, when we needed to drink water and there wasn’t any to drink. We pulled together when there was no food. That really bonded us.”
Thanks to the hard work of the rescuers, and the miners’ own perseverance, all thirty-three were eventually rescued after sixty-nine grueling days. To this day, it’s an incredible, inspirational story of what human beings can do in even the most harrowing conditions.
So, whether our own trials and tribulations are big or small, life-threatening or not, I believe we can take many lessons from those thirty-three miners. By following their example, we, too, can overcome adversity.
We too, can labor through the darkness until the day comes when we once again can feel the warm sun on our face.
From all of us at Retirement Financial Advisors, LLC, have a safe and wonderful Labor Day Weekend.