It was Dec. 26, 2004 when a devastating tsunami hit the shores of countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries. The province of Aceh in Sumatra, Indonesia, bore the brunt of what was later referred to as the "Boxing Day Tsunami," with nearly 170,000 deaths reported in that area alone.
Twenty-one days after the tsunami, reporters found a 7-year-old boy named Martunis stranded on a beach alone. The boy had survived the tsunami that killed his mother and siblings and kept himself alive for three weeks by eating dried noodles and drinking rain water. When reporters asked Martunis how he managed to survive, he said, "I was not afraid at all because I wanted to be alive to meet my family and become a football player."
When he was found, Martunis was wearing a Portuguese soccer jersey.
When Martunis' story made the international news, it caught the attention and warmed the hearts of people around the world — especially soccer fans in Portugal.
Martunis was found stranded on a beach wearing a Portuguese soccer jersey. (Photo: Martunis/Facebook)
Moved by Martunis' story, the Portuguese soccer federation paid to rebuild the boy's family home. Soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo met with Martunis in 2005 and agreed to cover the boy's educational expenses. He had this to say after meeting the young boy in person:
"I believe that many adults would not even be able to deal with what he has gone through," Ronaldo told reporters. "We must respect him. His was an act of strength and maturity. He's a special kid."
It was the hope of someday becoming a professional soccer (or football to the rest of the world) player that kept Martunis alive some 11 years ago. And it is a dream that has just become a reality.
Sporting Lisbon, the team that once nurtured Martunis' idol and benefactor Ronaldo, recently announced that it has signed 17-year-old Martunis to play on their youth team.
"I am very happy to have joined Sporting. It is a dream come true," Martunis said in a press release posted on Sporting Lisbon's website.
Check out this video for more about Martunis' story of survival and determination.
Related on MNN:
- Why it's OK to say 'soccer' instead of 'football'
- Where's the weirdest place to play soccer
- Pro soccer players have sharper mental skills than most