From the Times Record – March 12, 2015
BY DARCIE MOORE Times Record Staff
Why do you learn to ride a two-wheel unicycle that requires you to pedal backward to go forward? And while juggling?
“Because I can,” said Courtney Hall, a senior at Mt. Ararat High School and nine-year veteran of the Woodside One Wheelers.
She joined WOW in 2006, the year the circus troupe began at Woodside Elementary School. Then a third grader, she got excited about WOW after a school assembly. It was brand new and different than anything else she knew, which is what interested her.
Overwhelmed at the first practice, she actually found walking on the circus ball easiest for her, which took her a couple of sessions to learn. You essentially walk on the ball and keep feet moving. But she struggled to ride a unicycle.
“I remember just over and over, I just sat on the unicycle and I just couldn’t get anywhere,” Hall said, “and I watched other people that had already learned how to ride and was like, ‘How are they doing that?’”
She competed against a friend; the two were in the gym every recess and at practices, practicing constantly. When her friend beat her and learned how to ride unicycle, it motivated her to do the same. The next weekend she practiced at home, over and over, until she finally rode the unicycle the length of her driveway. And she remembers jumping up and down.
To learn new things Hall said, “I just have to keep doing it and every time you get on a unicycle and try something new, I try to think about what I’m doing wrong so I can do it better the next time.”
The next practice she was zooming around the gym on the one-wheeled contraption. That was just the start.
Hall sets goals for herself and makes herself work to accomplish them. At every WOW camp, she chose a juggling and a unicycle component to work on.
Juggling is one of Hall’s specialties. She does three and four-ball juggling tricks, and is working on a five-ball trick. And she does it while riding the unicycle.
“A lot of it is muscle memory and a lot of it is getting it to the point where I don’t have to think about it,” Hall said. “When I juggle, I can walk around and have a conversation with somebody and juggle at the same time.”
After learning to ride the short unicycle, she went on to learn how to ride the 5- foot giraffe, the three-wheel unicycle and the much more difficult two-wheel unicycle. The two-wheel has to be pedaled backward to go forward. Counter-intuitive to say the least, she can ride the two-wheeled cycle while juggling, too. Oh, and she can ride the Ultimate Wheel — a wheel with pedals on it with no seat at all.
Riding unicycles is about using your core center of gravity, said Hall.
Most recently she’s been stepping up some of the tricks she can do and is working on wheel-walking, the peg-leg and the bunny hop. The coaches say the kids always are ramping up what they can do as just learning to ride a short unicycle gets stagnant.
Sometimes Hall said she forgets how special it is what the Woodside One Wheelers can do, “until I watch somebody else watch us do what we do, and then I’m like ‘Oh my God I’m actually doing this.’
“Because I’m not an athletic person outside of WOW, so the fact that I am so passionate about unicycling especially, it surprises me how much I like it,” she added.
Hall is looking forward to the WOW community show at Mt. Ararat High School on Friday night, where every WOW member performs, she said, and gets to highlight their skill.
“Without WOW, I would not be as confident as I am overall,” Hall said. “WOW really brought me out of my shell. I’m naturally a very shy person and not one for public speaking or anything. I can now be comfortable just to ride in front of thousands of people down Washington Avenue and not think twice about it.
“It helps me in school so much because it just makes me that much more confident with what I do, and what I can do,” she added.
Once more of a follower, Hall said she is now a leader. She often helps the younger WOW members and serves as a kind of counselor at the WOW camps, where she can offer coaches the perspective of the unicycle riders.
She participates in some other afterschool activities, but Hall plans around the Tuesday night WOW practices and has worked hard to keep the group in her life. It is her time to relax.
WOW also has opened doors for her to work on other projects and activities, and the need to challenge herself in WOW has entered other aspects of her life, including school.
She has challenged herself to take more difficult courses, such as an Advanced Placement English course this year. Now, rather than sitting silent in the back of the class, she is more vocal in the classroom discussions.
Accepted to four colleges already, Hall plans to study film and become a film editor. As part of her Capstone Project, an enrichment project and graduation requirement at Mt. Ararat High School, Hall shot a documentary following the journey of two WOW students learning to ride a unicycle. The project allowed her to combine her two passions.
Hall rode with WOW in the 2010 Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C., and she’s happy that she will ride in that parade for the second time this April, bringing her full circle.
Wherever she attends college, she will take her unicycle with her and all the other WOW skills she has acquired in the last nine years.