x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Olympic torch carried by UAE schoolgirl

About 10 residents of the UAE were nominated and sponsored by Samsung Gulf Electronics to travel to the UK and take part in the relay.

Simran Vedvyas, 13, carried the torch for 300 metres as it made its progress through North Yorkshire yesterday.
Simran Vedvyas, 13, carried the torch for 300 metres as it made its progress through North Yorkshire yesterday.

DUBAI // A local schoolgirl who balances her studies with international campaigning became a playground hero when she joined in the Olympic torch relay in Britain yesterday.

Simran Vedvyas, 13, carried the torch for 300 metres as it made its progress through North Yorkshire. She said she was overwhelmed by the experience. "There were a lot of people who came out of their houses to cheer," she said. "It was such an amazing experience - like being a celebrity for a day."

But although her teachers and fellow pupils at the Millennium School Dubai were understandably proud of her they were also bitterly disappointed.

School staff had organised television screens and projectors to show her leg of the relay to more than 2,000 students at the school.

However, in a strange twist of fate, there was a service disruption on the BBC live feed, and 10 minutes of the relay were missing - the 10 minutes when Simran was running.

"It's so disappointing," said Vinita Gupta, her supervisor at the school. "It's like Murphy's Law. We've been seeing all sorts of people running this morning and now it crashes when it's her turn."

Simran is no stranger to crowds. Just before joining in the relay, she had been in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to give a speech in the "Youth Blast" conference, which was part of the high-profile United Nations Conference on sustainable development.

And shortly after returning from the UK she will represent the UAE as a delegate in the International Youth Forum in India. Next month, she's also going to attend another UN conference in Beijing.

"It was a bit of a surprise when she told us she was going to the Olympics," said her classmate Muskaan Sharma, 13, from India. "But to be honest, we didn't expect any less from her."

Another classmate, Gauri Kapse, also 13 from India, said that Simran was well-known, and well-liked. "She's confident and she stands up for her cause," she said. "How could we not feel inspired by her?"

As a participant of the relay, Simran will keep the torch she carried. Ms Gupta said the school would display it in the reception area for a time.

"She's a very confident girl and we're proud to have her here," she said. "She's very well known in the school, but she doesn't act any different from the other students. She's got a lot of friends."

About 10 residents of the UAE were nominated and sponsored by Samsung Gulf Electronics to travel to the UK and take part in the relay.

Among them were residents who scaled Mount Everest or walked from the UAE to Mecca. And although Simran is the youngest participant from the UAE, her resume is equally impressive.

One of her first charitable projects was the collection of 1,500 pairs of shoes for diabetes sufferers in Kenya in 2010. The following year she collected another 1,500 for the same cause in Uganda.

She is the "eco generation" regional ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, the Eye on Earth youth ambassador, and has taken on similar roles in various environment and health NGOs.

She's no slouch when it comes to education either, winning two local awards for academic performance.

Her headmaster, Dr Saleem Khan, admitted he sometimes worried she was taking on too much. He said. "We tell her that she should spend more time in studies. But on the whole she's good and she catches up. She's able to balance everything."

mcroucher@thenational.ae