Unicycling: An Extreme Sport, Really?
Friday, July 31, 2015
by: Arnold Askew, GCFP

Section: Athletes

Thanks to YouTube, you can now learn almost anything. There are even how-to-lessons for extreme sports. That’s how I got started learning to ride a unicycle. When I tell people what I do, there’s an almost universal response of dismay. First, there is the incredulous look, as if I am pulling their leg, followed by a stuttering bewilderment, “re...really?” At sixty-three, I realize I’m in the minority age bracket of people learning to navigate around on one wheel. When I first considered the idea, I assumed it would be impossible. Once I was able to ride, even a few feet, I was shocked by how exhausting it was. It only took ten or fifteen minutes of pedaling and I was a huffing, puffing, almost passing-out ball of sweat.
The extreme part of riding a unicycle is that you have to be willing to fall. A lot. It’s not like falling off a bicycle, though. When you fall off a bike, there is the potential to be going so fast that you incur serious injury. John Kerry, our Secretary of State, is currently recovering from such an accident. On a unicycle, the fall is smaller. When done gracefully, it’s more like stepping off as the cycle goes out from under you. Of course there are ugly falls. For example, your feet get tangled in the pedals and you go down on your wrists. Since falling is such an integral part of riding, you have to expect that you’re going to get hurt: bruises, sprains, scabs, and such. The type of injuries children experience everyday in sandboxes, playgrounds, and ballparks. For me, they’re not the type of injuries that outweigh the joy of the activity. Still, I wear gloves, wrist braces, and a helmet. Like I said, it is extreme.
As a Feldenkrais® practitioner, I couldn’t help but be aware of my learning curve in this endeavor. When I noticed myself falling consistently to the right, I began to exaggerate it until I was an expert. This is one of the great strategies of the Feldenkrais Method®...that is, paying attention to what you are doing until you can improve on it. Once I learned how I was falling, I found I could fall just as well to the left. Eventually, it became clear where the middle was and I was riding. The thrill was as intoxicating as the best back yard wild times I had as a kid. Riding the unicycle became a portal to my youth. I lost ten pounds, my core is solid, and I only go to physical therapy for a mild shoulder injury I incurred in the garden. 
The best thing I’ve learned however, is how to understand balance from my clients’ perspective. As we age, many people begin to lose their sense of balance, which causes a great deal of anxiety and can limit normal activity. One of my clients with neuropathy told me that if she thought of anything while she walking, she would fall. I knew exactly what she meant. When I was very green on the unicycle, I noticed that if I thought of anything while trying to ride, I would fall off. This became a problem if I needed to ride some distance and then turn. Thinking about turning led to falling. “Don’t think about it, just do it,” became my motto. From my own experience, I was able to help my client set goals of walking to the doorway, stopping, doing a body scan, and setting another goal - possibly moving to the kitchen counter. For her, like me, continued practice led to improvement. Recently, I walked with her to her car and we chatted all the way. Extreme indeed. 
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Comments (4)
Annie Thoe
10/10/2015 11:32:34 PM
Hi Arnold, I also took up unicycling over the past year-- as a practitioner I find this an incredible Feldenkrais practice for me, loved doing ATM on it, working with eyes, restraints with one arm, going cross-country on grass-- really awesome!, now working on going backwards or "hovering". Music has been a great addition, too. Keep me posted on your experience! Thanks for writing and sharing this-- I almost wrote an article myself and so glad you did!

Phil Smith
8/9/2015 4:58:00 AM
Excellent Andrew, I'm just starting the 4th year in Brisbane 3 training. At just about to turn 60 i also am unicycling. My interest in Feldy is long , about 30 years now and led me into Aikido and later on slacklining which like unicycling challenges baalnce beautifully and quite safely i might add. Been teaching kids the joy of it in school holidasy workshops for years now. Sooooo much fun.
Phil Smith

8/6/2015 3:22:59 AM
you have inspired me to get my unicycle out and start again with the learning process. I gave up when you continued. Good on you

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