I have known David Vellala, one of the 8,000 torch bearers for these Olympic Games, for several years now through some of the many sports programs he leads in my local area. He is what you call a ‘people person’, and the few times I have walked down the high street with him, he has bumped into someone he knows every two minutes and chats briefly with them. He also trained as a sprinter in his youth and so has a strong liking towards the Games and sports in general. He was nominated to run with the Olympic torch in the last couple days of its 8,000 mile journey across Britain. Today, I interviewed him about the activities he runs and his experience in the torch relay.
How did you get to run with the torch?
“I was nominated by somebody I used to coach, who nominated me mostly for the work I do in the community as a tennis coach. I also coach wheelchair tennis and now visually impaired tennis as well, so I’ve been involved with schools for special needs, so I think that was the main reason I was selected. With wheelchair tennis, we’re playing it inclusively which means that we’re playing it with able-footed players and people in chairs. But we’re also getting able-footed players into the chairs to see what it’s like, to be challenged. And because I work in schools a lot, so school children are having an opportunity to develop their understanding of what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. And it’s exciting, it’s fun, and that’s the main thing to get over the barriers that exist.”
What was it like carrying the Olympic torch and where did you run with it?
“Well I’m from Hackney, but I got selected to carry it in Harrow which I was quite pleased about ’cause Harrow is like what Hackney used to be like! It was very local, it was an amazing experience and it probably didn’t hit me ’till afterwards. But when I was there… I’m a bit of a show-man so I quite like a crowd, I’m not shy at all but I still found it overwhelming. The amount of children and families that wanted to touch the torch and be involved on the street was amazing. Not only did the line they climbed to see the torch and be part of it! I think the whole idea of the torch relay is help connect people and to feel part of something much bigger and not just simply a sporting event, it’s about community involvement.”
Did you enjoy the opening ceremony?
“I thought it was magical. I enjoyed all of it but especially the end where the older generation handed the flame off to the younger athletes to light the torch. As a teacher I’m all for that and also it was good ’cause it wasn’t about personalities, it was a symbol for how you can pass something on. And when the sculpture came together it was a living symbol, it was beautiful and truly a moving moment for me.”
When you were asked to carry it, did you want to?
“Originally, when I found out, I wasn’t going to go ahead with it because I just thought there were some amazing people out there who I thought deserved it more than me, you only have to look online to hear about their stories. But then I thought, I’ve been through some pretty hard stuff in my life, such as temporarily being in a wheelchair (which is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about wheelchair tennis) so I did eventually accept it. And actually the final confirmation came on my birthday so it sort of felt like it was right! And ever since the age of about eight I always wanted to carry the torch even though I trained as a track runner. And I’ve won some medals and minor stuff but I was always inspired but the spirit and ideals of the Olympics. So I thought the symbolism of the torch was something quite special so actually, it probably means more to me than if I was an Olympic medallist!”
Do you think there is enough done to fund the kind of activities and sport sessions that you run?
“It took me six years to get funding for the wheelchair tennis mainly because the focus on these types of things was poor until, the Paralympics were going to come to London. And the London Games should be incredible because it will make that whole community much more visible to the community and the world-wide audience. And also lately, the corporates, in my opinion, have been quite generous with their time and money, I was surprised so maybe that’s a way we should be looking.”
I was also inspired by the torch relay with how the message of the Olympics’ ideals and spirit is passed on through the symbolic flame. I think everyone around the country were also amazed by the lighting of the sculpture in the stadium on the night of the opening ceremony by the young generation. From all of the people I have spoken to, I have heard good things about the ceremony as well – completely summing up Britain through art, music, culture, dance, comedy and film, although I don’t think half the people watching around the world would have understood some of it though!