Indonesia’s famed ‘tsunami boy’ chases dream of professonal soccer

by

Kyodo

Martunis was 8 when he was found alive, stranded in a swampy area near the beach, 21 days after a giant tsunami hit and devastated Indonesia’s northern province Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004.

His survival story made him famous, not only because of his nearly unbelievable experience, but also because he was wearing a fake Portugal national soccer shirt.

Martunis was playing soccer with his friends in his village of Tibang about 7 kilometers north of the provincial capital Banda Aceh when the M9.1 earthquake struck Aceh.

He went home to check on his family, but was swept away by the tsunami that followed the quake.

The earthquake, which unleashed 1,500 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and the tsunami that followed killed about 230,000 people in 14 countries around the Indian Ocean. In Aceh alone, 170,000 people were killed or unaccounted for.

Martunis’ mother and two sisters were among those missing, caught in the tsunami in front of his eyes.

He clung to a school chair, then a mattress, then a big log and finally a sofa as he was pulled into the ocean and then deposited in the swamp by the returning waves.

For 18 days, surrounded by bodies, Martunis, who could not swim, survived on packs of instant noodles, bread, soft drinks and bottled water washed out of sea and floating around him.

“I was not afraid at all at that time because I still wanted to be alive to meet my family and to be a football player,” Martunis told Kyodo News.

By the 19th day, no food or water was washing up any more, leaving the boy dehydrated and near death when someone found him and delivered him to a British television journalist.

The journalist took Martunis over to a Save the Children staff member who got him to hospital.

Martunis, wearing the Portugal team shirt, appeared on television screens across the world and attracted the attention of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, then playing for Manchester United in England.

A member of Portugal’s national team, Ronaldo raised money to rebuild the house where Martunis now lives.

Five months later, Ronaldo, who now plays for Real Madrid, also invited Martunis and his father Sarbini to Portugal to meet him and other Portuguese soccer stars.

A couple of months after that, Ronaldo visited Martunis in Aceh, giving him a cellphone with contact numbers for all members of Portugal’s national team.

Since then, Martunis has received invitations from international celebrities, including singers Madonna and Celine Dion.

Martunis, now 17, has just graduated from senior high school.

And despite his frequent visits with overseas celebrities, he is still shy, answering questions in only a few words.

Questions he found difficult elicited only, “Let me think about the answer.”

And his gaze was always on his phone except when offering quick answers to questions.

Like many others his age, he doesn’t really know what he wants to do in his community, although his miraculous survival has certainly made him appreciate life more.

Now, his focus is on his dream to be a professional soccer player like his idol Ronaldo, attending English classes three times a week and playing soccer every day at Banda Aceh’s Real Madrid Soccer School, which was built by the Real Madrid Foundation.

When he turned 17 in October, he joined a selection to be chosen for the Indonesian national team and passed the first stage, but failed at the second.

“I was told that I’m physically weak. I’m easy to get tired,” the young man who loves playing as a striker said.

But Martunis clings to his dream.

He met Ronaldo, who is also an Indonesian mangrove ambassador, in Bali in June where the soccer star told Martunis “to study hard, to practice hard.”

“If I do that, (Ronaldo) said, it will not be impossible for me to be a professional soccer player,” Martunis added.

Ten years ago, he fought for 21 days to survive the tsunami, never giving up.

Now, “the miracle boy” believes that kind of determination will get him into professional soccer as long as he fights for it and perseveres.