Mario Sepulveda, who spent 69 days trapped in a hot, dark hell deep below the earth’s surface, has one wish. With magic powers, the former Chilean miner would cloak the world in darkness for 30 days.
The hardship—which barely approaches the trials he faced while confined underground—would help people better recognize the essentials in their lives, Sepulveda said Saturday in Moorestown.
“I realized the amount of things we don’t really need in life,” he said through an interpreter. “I learned that humans have to learn to love each other. When I came out, I realized all of the beautiful things in this world.”
That lesson came at a dear price. Sepulveda is one of “Los Treinta y Tres,” the 33 men whose unprecedented rescue captured the global attention. The world was rapt when the men were raised from the earth’s bowels.
Rescued second, Sepulveda quickly earned the nickname “Super Mario” for his enthusiasm post-rescue. The miner wasted little time putting what he learned from the ordeal into action.
He started a group, Miner’s Miracle, which seeks to build homes for Chile’s poor. Sepulveda currently is on a tour of the Mid-Atlantic promoting his group, and it was that work that brought him to Moorestown Saturday, to the home of James and Maria DeMalo.
Chilean-American Maria DeMalo belongs to a group promoting Chilean cross-cultural experiences in the tristate area. She invited Sepulveda to meet with her friends and neighbors and their children. Dozens came to meet the miner and hear his story, and Sepulveda greeted them like old friends.
“In Chile, we kiss!” he exclaimed, embracing those gathered.
The children fired questions on everything from how Sepulveda slept underground (using his work pack as a pillow) to how much weight he lost (50 pounds, but “I gained it all back,” he added quickly with a laugh).
Sepulveda had to contend with dark thoughts underground, and there are some events he calls “very personal” and that he will not talk about, he said. Instead, he focuses on the “good hearts” of the men he was trapped with and those involved in the rescue effort when talking about the experience.
Sepulveda, who had been homeless for a period in early adulthood, drew strength from his children while underground. Now, he is determined that his kids will not face a similar life of hardship.
Miner’s Miracle expands that goal to help other Chileans as well. In conjunction with the New York-based Gabriela Mistral Foundation, Sepulveda’s goal is to build 200 homes in areas of Chile affected by the 2010 8.8-magnitude earthquake. Just 16 have been built so far, and Sepulveda hopes to construct the rest before Chile’s winter arrives in a few months.
Sepulveda’s example of triumphing over his experience is an invaluable lesson for the children who visited with him, DeMalo said.
“To have him here, to talk to him, is amazing. What they went through, I just can’t believe he has energy to do what he’s doing now,” she said. “What he’s doing is just incredible. I’m very proud to be Chilean.”