Twelve-year-old Krish Patel may not be an avid cyclist, but he will never forget the TransAndes Challenge.
At the 2011 National Geography Bee, he was asked what country has the Patagonian Plateau bike race. The Pinewood Prep sixth-grader answered Argentina.
He wasn’t far off, as the plateau is in Argentina, but it is neighboring Chile that is home to the Challenge.
The misstep landed Krish, who was one of the five youngest competitors last year, in 15th place in the competition.
This year, he’s representing South Carolina again, and he feels more prepared. He’s been studying for several months for the 24th annual National Geographic Bee, which starts Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Krish is one of only 54 students remaining in the nationwide competition, culled from more than 5 million participants.
The bee is a nationwide contest that is an educational program of the National Geographic Society with a first-place prize of a $25,000 college scholarship — and other prizes in additional scholarships and cash.
“I’m trying really hard to prepare,” he said. “I look at a country, and then find out the cultural landscape, the physical landscape, and if it’s a poor country or a rich country, and I find out what they export and I also learn what they mine, their largest resources, stuff like that.”
He knows the capital of each country, the second-largest city, and how it was formed. He watches news to stay abreast of current events.
He doesn’t mind revealing his study method: “All you have to do is get asked the question, and then you know it,” he says. “Well, and you have to have a good memory.”
It was a fluke last year that got him in the school-wide competition, which is typically for students in grades six through eight.
“A student got sick and they needed a person to fill in the 10th spot,” Krish said. “I was just a bystander so Mr. (Chuck) Stjern said I could participate.”
Stjern, who organizes the competition for Pinewood, said he had heard about Krish from his fifth-grade teacher.
“It’s like he’s been preparing for this since he was about 5 years old,” Stjern said.
Krish took the school title, then advanced to the state contest to qualify for the national competition.
“The state bee was a little more tricky,” he said. “It made me a little nervous, but I just went to go learn geography and have fun.”
Stjern said Krish’s accomplishments are unusual for his age.
“This is his second year of winning state, which is kind of unusual, but to win state in fifth grade is very unusual,” said Stjern, who, along with Krish’s parents, is accompanying him on the all-expenses-paid trip to the capitol. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years and last year was the first time we have ever had a student from Pinewood make it past state. And the amazing thing is, if he doesn’t win, he still has two more years of eligibility.”
Krish has always been interested in geography. His bedroom walls are lined with maps and he enjoys studying atlases and books.
“I like how you can gain a global perspective,” he said. “Like, you know what’s going on in the world and you know where everything is in the world. You can kind of do anything.”
Rakesh Patel, a data analysis engineer, and his stay-at-home wife, Elliza Patel, moved with their only child from India to Summerville in 2002.
At the time, Elliza Patel said, she knew very little about the United States. She studied its geography to learn, and soon her son followed suit.
But Krish is not a one-trick pony by any means.
He is a straight-A student with perfect attendance who also likes science and loves math. He has written some short stories, swims for Pinewood and on a local summer league team, and plays soccer. His hobbies are cooking, watching the Weather Channel and building with Legos.
He doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but said he hopes it will involve math, geography and travel.
While he hopes to place better in this year’s bee than he did last year, Krish has it all in perspective.
“I’m a little bit nervous about it, but I’m just going to do my best,” he said.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.