Only a few short weeks ago, Geoff Papi-Watson had never been outside Australia. So it was pretty surreal when he found himself running through the streets of Sao Kitara Del Sol with the Olympic torch, as crowds of Brazilians cheered him on.
“There were people taking photos everywhere and cheering, even people running with me which was quite cool,” said Geoff. “It felt great.”
The Hobart teenager found himself in the privileged position of Official Olympic Torchbearer thanks to his volunteer work for The Happiness Cycle. As a thank you for Geoff’s community work, Olympic Games sponsor Coca-Cola flew Geoff and his dad to Brazil for the event.
“The roads, buildings and people are pretty different,” Geoff said of the three days he spent touring Sao Paolo, Brazil’s largest city, before his run. “It’s a far cry from Hobart,” he exclaimed.
It’s a tough call to say whether dancing or soccer is Brazil’s favourite national pastime, so Geoff took the opportunity to check out both. First up, he danced with locals to Brazilian band Meninos do Morumbi.
“It was absolutely excellent,” Geoff said. “We all got involved in the playing and dancing, and the drums were great.”
Geoff and his dad also visited the local soccer stadium. “It was big,” Geoff laughed. “The closest one to home I’ve always thought was pretty big, but looking at this one in Sao Paulo, it was absolutely gigantic!”
But it all paled in comparison to Geoff’s run with the torch.
While he’d been preparing for his big day for months, it wasn’t until Geoff saw torches that the reality of the moment fully dawned on him. “There were about 20 of them sitting there together. I didn’t really expect the torch to be as tall as it was,” he said.
“The actual fact that I was holding the current Olympic Torch it was just like - wow!”
After a short briefing in Portuguese, Brazil’s national language, Geoff was ready for his leg of the Olympic Torch Relay. But there were a few key pieces of advice that took him by surprise.
“When I was starting the run, I realised quickly not to hold the torch too close to my face,” he explained.
“As I was running, they kept saying, ‘keep the flame away from your face’ - I could definitely feel the heat!”
In the crowds of people lining the run, there was one face that stood out for Geoff – his dad. “It wasn’t what Dad said, it was more the emotion on his face that I noticed. There were even some tears of happiness,” Geoff recalled. “I’ve never seen him look like that in my life.”
Geoff has just arrived back in Hobart, and he’s carried a little of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with him.
“I’m still in a bit of shock, he said. “I keep pulling the Olympic Torch out of its case and thinking, you know, is it actually real? I still can’t get over what a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was.”