It’s hard to predict when something truly historic might happen, or where.

Sometimes, even a small, rural community might touch the white-hot glow of an international spotlight. And, indeed, Creswell has a starring role in the biggest, ongoing geo-political story in the world. 

In 2000, while working for a paper in Florence, Ala., a small town in the northwest part of the state better known for its sister cities Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia (Helen Keller’s hometown), an international event was taking place in Miami.

Elián González was a 5-year-old boy rescued after he and his mother attempted to escape Cuba by boat. His mother, and many others on the boat, drowned. Elián was found alive, floating on an inner tube. He was taken ashore for medical care, and was granted temporary status and released to a family member in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. 

Elián’s father wanted the boy back in Cuba.

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro interceded on Elián’s father’s behalf, and an international incident was underway. The stalemate between the U.S. and Cuba over the child’s immigration status was being played out in state and federal courtrooms, with decisions bouncing around like pinballs.

Ultimately, Elián was ordered to go back to Cuba. Which didn’t sit well with the relatives in Miami, or the staunch anti-Castro sentiment in the broader community. Finally, in the early morning of April 22, 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno sent in the Border Patrol agents to take Elián from the home in Miami. Alan Diaz of the Associated Press took the photo that many will never forget.

AP FILE PHOTO - A Border Patrol agent takes Elian Gonzalez from his great-uncle’s arms in 2000 in Miami, which captured the world’s attention.

The boy was reunited with his father at Andrews Air Force Base and remained there while the final details of his departure were worked out. 

Back in Florence, Ala., word came into the newsroom that a neighbor’s grandmother had a connection to the story. Grandma, it turned out, had regularly babysat for someone who was now working in the White House. They contacted her, and asked if she could stay with Elián during this time.

As a native Miamian, of course, this story hit close to home on many levels. 

And I think about it now in the context of current events.

While Russian forces continue to wage war in the Ukraine, other nations in the region are responding in dramatic fashion. Finland and Sweden, notably, are seeking to join NATO, the post-World War II treaty that unifies most of Europe with the United States in defense of democracy. Vladimir Putin, the war criminal and autocratic leader of Russia, has vowed to retaliate against both countries should they actually join NATO. 

Where does The Friendly City enter this picture? Well, thanks to the visionary thinking and action by several residents, including Mayor Dave Stram, Lonn Robertson, and Sarah Cox several years ago, the town of just over 5,000 residents is playing host to the Finnish Athletics Team that will be competing in the world championships in July. 

The Fins, about 40 in all between athletes, coaches and support staff, will be staying in Creswell to acclimate to the southern Willamette Valley, getting around town on bicycles and training at the home of the Bulldogs, Creswell High. 

It has to be a particularly difficult challenge for the Finnish contingent to know that the event you’ve prepared for during your entire life will be done with the spectre of Russian “retaliation” against your homeland. Nearly 5,000 miles away, family and friends are vulnerable to the whims of a madman.

Elite athletes are unique in many ways – not just their talent, but all of the peculiarities of achieving athletic success on a global level. Sleeping habits, dietary needs, and every other aspect of life is often scheduled to the minute. And avoiding illness – particularly during Covid virus mutations – is paramount. These are the reasons most folks might not interact with or even know the Fins are visiting. It’s not likely you’ll run into them at Farmlands Market, having a drink at the Round-Up Saloon, or eating pizza and fried chicken at My Boys. 

But if you do, be mindful that while they are running, jumping, shot-putting and other athletic endeavors, they are carrying the weight of war on their backs, while the world watches.

Noel Nash is publisher of The Chronicle.