She hasn't learned to do it yet ("it's really difficult"), but that doesn't keep Michelle Keezer from being a great coach to a bunch of 7- to 14-year-olds who ride unicycles. They learn in a unique program at the Andover Elementary/Middle School and, when they get good, they join the traveling team. Over the years the team - the only precision unicycle team in the country - has performed in places as far away as California and the Bahamas. This 4th of July they dazzled parade-goers right in their hometown.
Why would anyone ride on one wheel when they can have two?
The kids just think it's neat. It's different, and they love doing it.
You're riding on one wheel with no hands. What kind of shape do you have to be in?
It takes a lot of strength, especially if you're riding in parades like our traveling team does. The typical parade route is a mile to two miles long and, if you have to ride in circles going from the front to the back of the group like these riders do, you double the distance.
What's the hardest part of learning to ride?
The balance. The girls, God love them, make it look so easy. It's not. When you're not balanced, the wheel slips out front or back. Just sitting on the seat holding on is a skill all in itself. To pedal forward is very difficult. Kids on the team can ride backwards, dance with each other and do a pinwheel. One girl can pedal with one foot.
It's a really unusual sport - how did it get started in Andover?
It started in 1990 with Percy Hill, who was a gym teacher and a unicycle rider. He and some others set up a unicycle program in the school and it just caught on. He's retired now, but he still comes to the girls' performances.
Do boys join the team?
It's certainly open to boys, but for the last two years it's only been girls. Some boys are learning - we'll see whether they take that extra step. It's a year-long commitment and it's hard to be one boy among 20 girls.
Not all your unicyclists are on the team ...
We have three levels of learning: Learn-to Ride, which begins in kindergarten and is geared for students who want to just learn how to ride; Intermediate, which typically contains students in grades 1-6; and the traveling team.
It's said to be the only precision unicycle team in the country.
It's kind of neat to be unique. I don't know why there aren't more. In Andover, kids love it. They recruit their friends, younger brothers and sisters are doing it, and it just continues on - almost 20 years, it's amazing.
You must be proud as punch when you go to a parade.
I love it when people start to scream and clap as they perform. It gives me goosebumps every time.
For more information about the Andover One Wheelers, visit andover.k12.nh.us/onewheel/onewheel.htm.
This article appears in the October 2008 issue of New Hampshire Magazine