‘If this is fame, then it’s not for me’

Santiago, Chile – One week after being hoisted from the depths of a collapsed mine in Chile, the 33 rescued workers say they are fed up with celebrity, the media scrum and even the promise of untold riches from book contracts and movie deals.

The miners say they want their old lives back.

Omar Reygadas (56), who scarcely a week ago was being pulled above ground after 69 days entombed in the underground cavern, said: “Sometimes, I think it was much better inside the mine.”

Reygadas said in an interview with the daily El Mercurio newspaper that the weeklong media frenzy surrounding his rescue has proved almost more than he can bear.

“This whole situation has made me made me jittery; I can’t sleep very well,” he said.

The miners, humble day labourers who earned their living by the sweat of their brow, last week became unlikely rock stars, after surviving a harrowing ordeal 700m deep underground at the San Jose gold and copper mine.

Hundreds of journalists from every corner of the globe descended upon Chile to document their amazing tale of survival against the odds, after they originally were given up for dead in the August 5 cave-in.

Since their dramatic rescue, every step of the men’s lives has been painstakingly documented, including the tearful reunions with anxious loved ones and the first days in their humble dwellings after being taken home.

The men said that being sequestered in close quarters within the mine was hard, but not nearly as challenging as the constant glare of television lights and relentless public scrutiny.

“I’m extremely exhausted from being besieged by the press, tired of all the events and appointments with officials,” said Mario Gomez, at 63 years old the eminence grise of the group.

“I hope that all of this quiets down pretty soon,” he said.

In the days leading up to and immediately after the men being brought above ground, television stations around the globe devoted hours of non-stop coverage to the rescue, and newspapers thousands of miles away made them a front-page story.

Now miner Mario Sepulveda says he has had enough.

“The haranguing by the national and foreign press has been fairly relentless. If this is fame,” he told US television, “then it’s not for me.”

Not all the miners, however, have had their fill of TV cameras and klieg lights. Four of the men – Ariel Ticona, Victor Segovia, Esteban Rojas and Pablo Rojas – were on their way to Spain yesterday to take part in a four-hour-long televised special program.

And all the miners attended a gala party organized earlier this week by Chilean billionaire Leonardo Farkas, a mining magnate whose party favours for each of the men included their very own motorbike.

Earlier, Farkas made presents to the men of $10 000-cheques and even promised to purchase new homes for any who were renters.

Even while they were still trapped in the mine, experts anticipated the current media onslaught and tried to prepare the miners by giving them training in how to handle television and newspaper interviews.

Experts said the fever-pitch celebrity has put the men at even greater psychological risk than was feared as a result of which has followed their physically and emotionally gruelling captivity.

“What has hurt the men most is the lack of a chance to rest,” said psychologist Alberto Iturra, head of a team of mental experts tasked with monitoring the men’s wellbeing.

“They need to rest,” he said.

Iturra said it was to be expected that the men would begin to resent their newfound celebrity, and that they would even begin to miss the relative quiet and camaraderie of the mine.

“It’s only natural that, after five or six days, they would begin to miss each other and would feel a bit homesick for the mine, which was so much more peaceful and where they had so much more control over their surroundings,” Iturra said.

The psychologist added that he and other mental health experts to continue to monitor the men’s every move, and to help them deal with their sudden fame.

“We’re going to accompany them all the time, for as long as necessary,” he said.

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