Geoff Papi-Watson has never been overseas. But in a couple of months he’ll be running on the streets of Saõ Paulo, Brazil – with the Olympic Torch in hand.
The Tasmanian teenager was selected as a participant in the Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay for his extensive volunteer work with the Happiness Cycle , a national health program developed by Coca‑Cola and the Bicycle Network as well as other local community initiatives including the Glenorchy Youth Task Force.
Needless to say, Geoff was a little surprised to be called up for the Olympics “When I first found out, I was like ‘What?!’,” he laughs. “To be perfectly honest, I never thought I’d be chosen when I applied. It’s still a bit of a shock.”
His father, David, who will accompany him to Rio, was just as surprised as Geoff. “It’s a hell of a shock to the system,” admits David. “I’ve never been out of Australia either, so I’m trying not to think about it, because every time I do, I get a bit nervous.”
Yet when Geoff arrives in Rio, it won’t be the first time he’s held the Olympic Torch.
“A grandmother of a classmate ran the torch in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games,” he recalls. “She came into class to show us, and I was fortunate enough to hold it.”
The encounter gave the young torchbearer some ideas about how to prepare for his 200m leg of the Olympic Torch Relay.
“I distinctly remember her telling us she jogged around the local area holding a two-litre bottle of milk, which is roughly the same weight,” Geoff says. “A two-litre milk carton isn’t hard to come by, so maybe a month beforehand I might try that.”
Inspired by cycling
The 16-year old began participating in the Happiness Cycle in early 2014. His sister, Jalanda, got involved and suggested her cycling-mad brother join her.
“She asked me if I’d like to do it and I thought, yeah, why not?” he recalls. “You get a free bike. I’ve got a fair bit of knowledge about that sort of stuff, so I put my name forward.”
After training with the Happiness Cycle mechanics Geoff helped local schoolkids assemble their new bikes in his local park.
“I attended two days’ training, learning how it all works, assembling bikes and assigning roles,” he explains. “On the day, I was working on the assembly line. When the school students arrived, I walked around helping them, making sure the bikes were put together properly.”
While he doesn’t quite know what to expect when he gets to Brazil, Geoff’s ready to take everything in his stride.
“I’m just expecting good vibes, good weather and good people,” he says. “It’ll be the trip of a lifetime.”
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