"Everything I Needed to Know I Learned by Unicycling"
Posted Feb 25 2013 6:03am
met Danielle Ross in person yesterday for the first time and had the
opportunity to take these photos of her unicycling on a paved path
filled with tight switchback turns and lots of hills in the woods at a
city parknamed Henderson Park(where I also got to finally see the really sweet community garden there) about 10 miles from my home. I also got to witness her achieve making it down a small, descending off-road trail for the first time.
my unicycling mastery after three solid years (10 years ago, in honor of
my 40th birthday) consisted of going around a track and doing circles
and figure eights in a basketball court, I am extraordinarily impressed
with what this 52-year-old woman has achieved since just this past September. If you've never done
this, you have no idea how hard it is! There is no "coasting" on a
unicycle, and you are forced to be 100% fully present at all times, plus
it is literally the best all-body workout I ever experienced (your
upper body gets locked into one big isometric hold while your thighs
pummel away). Bravo, Danielle.
FYI, following is the article that I wrote years ago about what I learned while
unicycling. Danielle found me after reading this article online, and thus discovered this
odd little life-changing hobby. I also found out yesterday that this really cool woman who used to rollerblade while I was unicycling at the high school track (before the track was replaced with a surface that was too soft for doing this, and led to my stopping riding not long after as there was no other good place for me to ride) was none other than my friend Connie Morelle! It would be six years later before I officially met Connie (she is currently the chairperson of the City of Dunwoody Sustainability Commission, a citizen advisory group I was appointed by the mayor to start and lead when my suburb became the newest city in the United States) and I never made this connection before she pointed it out to me yesterday!
You know how I always say "trust the journey"? It's funny how it all connects.
It was six weeks until my big 4-0 birthday and I fell upon a little
tidbit of life-changing info by total chance. “It takes about six weeks
to learn how to ride a unicycle,” some website said. I thought it was
When the planes crashed into those buildings on 9/11,
my business crashed temporarily as well. I struggled to keep it running
and to come to terms with the purpose of life, and my life in
particular. I needed meaning. I needed hope. And yes, I needed
balance. The odd, unexpected desire to ride a unicycle was a calling I
somehow knew I needed to answer.
“How hard could it be?” I thought, and called a local bike store
to order one. And now, several years later, a regular at the local
track on Zippy, the unicycle, I still count the joy of walking out of
that bike store with a unicycle under my arm as one of the happiest
moments of my life.
As Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads
diverged in a yellow wood . . . and I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.” Riding a unicycle has put me on a
different path, a path I didn’t even know existed. It is truly one of
the hardest things I have ever done, requiring unparalleled
concentration, coordination and trust in myself. Yet I already know it
has taught me some of the biggest lessons of my life.
1. Get over the fear of falling by learning to fall gracefully.
After learning how to just sit on the darn thing, the next thing you
learn on a unicycle is how to fall. You perch there, with your hand on
the previously-white wall in your hallway, and let the seat drop
forward, falling effortlessly, miraculously, on your feet. Then, you do
it again, letting the seat fall backward. Again, you’re on your feet.
You practice this for hours so that when the day comes when you finally
leave the wall and pedal an actual rotation or two, you can fall with
ease and confidence, knowing you will land on your feet. Okay, fine, it
doesn’t always work out that way, but you learn. Fast. Especially that
it’s far less painful to fall forward.
When I get book
rejections or lose clients now, I try to remember to fall gracefully and
to use whatever knowledge I acquired from the experience to move me
forward in my career, and more importantly, in my life.
2. Relax your back, remember to breathe, and keep pedaling.
When you stop pedaling on a unicycle, you stop. Period. There is no
coasting. Pedaling must be constant. And when you’re focusing on
teetering up there on that seat and basically trying not to kill
yourself, it’s sometimes hard to remember to keep those leg pistons
going, like a duck in water.
When I first started riding, I
had to sing songs to remind myself to pedal on each beat. This required
so much thought that I would forget to breathe and would tighten up my
back until it was a total knot. Yoga techniques help with both these
problems, which is why I often refer to unicycling as uniyoga—besides,
it’s the ultimate balance pose! Now, in the yoga studio, I sometimes
visualize myself on that one-wheeled wonder and boy, do my poses sharpen
3. Lean into the wind or get blown right over.
I ride one morning a week, all year long, through all kinds of weather.
Rain, snow flurries and scorching sun are no problem. Wind is the
problem. Here, I had to remember what I learned in that church basement
in New York City where I took those budget sailing lessons many years
ago. The instructor walked in with a fan and said, “Today we are going
to learn about wind” and he proceeded to blow it at us from various
directions and attempt to teach us the proper ways to jib and jab.
So now, on Zippy, when the wind blows, I try to figure out which way
the fan is pointed and react accordingly. My arms are the sails. I
raise and lower them slightly, making minor corrections, until I once
again maintain equilibrium. When the wind blows straight at me, there
is only one defense, however. I must lean forward into it and keep on
pedaling. Likewise, when adversity hits in life, I see it as wind to
which I must simply react by either making adjustments or leaning into
and plowing through.
4. Keep your focus on where you want to go, not where you are.
I heard once that heads weigh something like ten pounds so if you keep
moving your head around, you throw off your balance. Focus is
everything. On Zippy, I lock my eyes on a mid-distance point ahead of
me and go toward it, although my ears stay tuned for sounds in the
present so I can tell if a dog runs up behind me (never fun) or respond
to a jogger who wants to chat (which is often). In my daily life, I try
to keep mindful of my big-picture intentions, and just keep the
momentum going in order to get there.
5. Don’t worry about how silly you look. Who really cares?
I’m a middle-aged suburban mom. I live in a neighborhood where we have
to get the color of our shutters approved before repainting. I don’t
know how many people ride a unicycle in this country, but here in my
town, no one does but me, as far as I can tell. Riding a unicycle is a
little out there. But, you know what? Once I got out there, and once
the high school kids stopped heckling me from the windows that overlook
the track, unicycling became the most normal thing in the world for me.
I was free. Truly free.
I can skip wildly down the street,
sing out of tune while washing my car, jump awkwardly off the diving
board at the community pool, laugh from deep in my soul, and even allow
myself to be vulnerable to criticism and yes, even rejection. It’s
okay. It’s part of living my life out loud. Even though my shutters
are a lovely shade of blue.
6. Celebrate the joy of achievement, no matter how truly useless the skill.
I can do something today I couldn’t do a few years ago, and something
most people have never tried to do at all. Each time I have a setback
in my life, I remind myself, “Yeah, but you can ride a unicycle” and it
always make me smile. I am proud of myself. And somehow I am once
again connected to a spirit I almost lost, who is curious to see where
the road less traveled will take her.