My life has been filled with people telling me about all the things I can’t
possibly do. But I don’t believe them for a minute. Think you’ll never ride a
unicycle? Well, you can probably learn if you can’t already ride. What I
needed was more than simply learning the mechanics of riding, which is what I
asked anyone who would listen. What I needed, and what most non-riders need
besides practice, is a change in their attitude, a little perseverance, and
Please indulge me with a bit of personal history, and a journey of learning to
unicycle, before I come to my questions.
As I was growing up, I felt like the world was my playground. Like most young
people, I took for granted my luck of being in such a good situation. One way or
another I managed to get just about anything I wanted without coming up against
a real challenge. Otherwise, I gave up. But one day I awoke from a coma and had
people tell me about the motorcycle accident I was in the month before. Needless
to say, I didn’t remember a thing about the accident. At first I thought, “What
a joke! This isn’t real. How could it be? This is crazy.” Then I tried to get
out of the hospital bed when no one was looking. I promptly fell down, hitting
the ground like a dead weight. That’s when the joke ended and my long journey
began. Giving up was just not an option. Unlike most injuries, a head injury
heals more slowly. My head injury caused a partial loss for controlling the
muscles in the left side of my body. It’s been over twenty-five years since I
woke up that day in the hospital, and I still feel like I’m continuing to heal,
that is feeling that both sides of my body are nearly identical.
While I prefer to dwell on the many successes in my life, there have been plenty
disappointments along the way. My experience over the last five months of
learning to unicycle have given me an opportunity to once again experience
similar frustration which has ultimately led to joy. When I began trying to ride
I recalled the feelings I had when relearning to walk. Anyone who can walks can
tell you what to do: Simply put one foot in front of the other. I had to start
over, at ground zero. The same is true for those who know how to ride. Ask them
how and they’ll tell you its simple, just hop on and pedal. But we all know that
what is really needed is practice. The lesson is that if you give up trying to
ride then you’ll never learn.
When I woke up no one could really determine how much I’d recover, so my
doctors were cautious about giving me any hope of walking, running, or doing
anything. Sort of like the person selling you a unicycle saying, “You shouldn’t
expect to be able to ride this thing. People do learn, but that’s no guarantee
you’ll be able to learn.” Some motivation. In hindsight I realize that doctors
walk a fine line of offering too much hope and being sued for malpractice. But
no matter what your situation, my advice is to not dwell on nay Sayers. Don’t
give up your quest to learn how to ride. That I had an inner drive keeping me
from accepting being handicapped was something my doctors couldn’t measure. Not
long ago, my neighbors gave me a similar talk as I repeatedly failed to master
free mounting during a practice session. “Do you expect to ever ride that
thing? Another hour of pain and frustration…” Reaching my goal of riding is
only sweeter now that its here and I ride in front of her house. Remember,
there’s no better learner than a self-motivated learner. No one can push you to
learn how to ride except yourself.
Given my background, I approach learning a new physical skill in a somewhat
unique manner. In other words, I don’t necessarily follow the exact steps
someone else might use. Certainly, I have tried to find everything written about
learning how to ride in print and on the Internet about unicycles. It’s
astounding how little is in print, and I’ve found nothing at used bookstores.
I’ve also met with and talked to many people over the Internet, looking for tips
and techniques, attempting to discover the secret of riding well. The unicycling
videos I’ve seen, while very interesting, have been lacking in their
instructional value. After all, watching a game of baseball will not teach you
how to hit homeruns. How will watching people idle teach you how to idle? But as
usual I already had the necessary ingredients for learning how to ride.
Determination–which I’ll admit is at a higher level for me than most
people–must exist. Physical coordination and good balance–two of my challenges
that are generally worse than most people–must also be at a high level. What’s
good is that they both improve with practice. The third ingredient is being
unwilling to look at failure as anything but a temporary setback.
Once I brought my unicycle home, I spent countless hours inside my garage
practicing. Launching myself from the workbench I had used to assist me to
mount the 20-inch Summit. Trying again and again to stay on top for a full
rotation of the pedals. The right combination was leaning forward, keeping my
eyes focused on my destination, and having enough speed to move the unicycle
forward did the trick. Furthering my distance happened slowly, but with it was
the more important fine-tuning of technique. Feeling comfortable with the uni
Now, finally, I am riding well. My biggest challenge was learning to free mount.
I’m doing it, and a side benefit is that it impresses people who watch. Learning
how to free mount is a fabulous Christmas present! A bonus is that I can do
figure-eights, too. For all who I struggling with learning to ride, don’t give
up. Practicing will ultimately pay off.
Three questions. Can a 20-inch wheel be used to qualify for the USA Skill Level
testing? How do I go about being tested, in other words, who administers the
test? For those who have actually gone through the formal process of being
tested, is it worth the trouble? After all, I don’t need anyone to tell me I’ve
reached Level 1.