Cristiano Ronaldo poses with Martunis during a press conference in Kuta, Indonesia, on June 26, 2013
Firdia Lisnawati—AP
July 7, 2015 3:25 AM EDT

An 8-year-old boy was playing soccer with friends when a massive earthquake struck Indonesia on December 26, 2004, triggering a tsunami that killed over 230,000 people – including his mother and two sisters.

After the quake, the boy, who goes by the single name Martunis, rushed home to check on his family and was swept away in the deluge. Unable to swim and clinging to floating debris, he was deposited in swampland where he remained for 18 days, surviving on instant noodles and soft drinks he found floating around him, The Japan Times reports.

“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,” he told reporters after his rescue.

By the 19th day with no food or clean water in sight, he was found and rescued by a British journalist. His survival made global news – footage of the young boy in his Portugal national team jersey got the team’s attention, and his hero Cristiano Ronaldo also took notice.

Portugal’s soccer federation donated 40,000 euros to build Martunis and his father a new home, the The Washington Post reports. Ronaldo visited Martunis in 2005 and invited him and his father to visit Portugal – he also promised to pay for the boy’s education.

“I believe that many adults would not even be able to deal with what he has gone through,” rising star Ronaldo said at the time. “We must respect him. His was an act of strength and maturity. He’s a special kid.”

Now, at 17, Martunis will return to Portugal to follow in his hero’s footsteps. On July 2nd, Sporting Lisbon, Ronaldo’s fist team, signed Martunis to play on its youth team.

“I am very happy to have joined Sporting. It is a dream come true,” Martunis said at the signing ceremony.

This article originally appeared on

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at

You May Also Like