Remember Pita Taufatofua, the 176-pound Taekwondo fighter from Tonga who totally owned the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games by carried his country’s flag shirtless with his eye-popping muscles all oiled up? He’s apparently representing his small island nation in the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross country skier, even though it doesn’t snow in Tonga and even though he’d never been on skis before a year ago.
Taufatofua officially qualified for the Winter Games in a qualifying race in Iceland this last weekend. He had started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to help raise money for his ski equipment, training, race entry fees, accommodations, coaching and other costs associated with training for the Games. In the end, his campaign only raised $16,941 of its $30,000 goal.
“After Rio, I sat down and I thought, ‘What is it I can do with [my fame from the Rio Olympics] to inspire or motivate more people to live an active, happy fulfilled lifestyle?’ I thought, I have to do something impossible. And then I decided I was going to try for a second Olympics but in a sport I had never done before.”
“I thought if I could do this, then anyone who was following this journey could achieve anything they wanted to achieve,” he said.
If this all sounds a bit lofty and bombastic coming from a guy who was eliminated after his first match in the 2016 Summer Games, it may have something to do with his history of counseling homeless youth for 15 years.
After an initially rocky start constantly crashing in skis on both the roads and snow, he eventually began rigorous training and ended up qualifying for the South Korean Winter Games in a qualifying event administered by the International Ski Federation (FIS).