For most people, choosing an alternative way to get around Madison involves two wheels and a set of handlebars, but for many residents of the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, one wheel will do just fine.
At O’Keefe Middle School on almost any Sunday afternoon, you can find a gym filled with unicycling enthusiasts, from kindergarten all the way up to 65 years old, novice to expert. All are welcome to come and try out the sport, says Madison Unicycle Club youth development director Jill Cohan.
“This is the epicenter for unicycling in North America right now,” Cohan said. “And it didn’t used to be.”
After Madison hosted the North American Unicycling Convention and Championships (NAUCC) for the first time in 2011, unicyclists from around the world have been rolling to town to get a taste of the extensive outreach the Madison Unicycle Club has done in the last 10 years, Cohan said.
Directors from clubs in Minnesota and Detroit have praised the work of the Madison Unicycling Club for their retention rate and development of young riders from elementary school to college graduates.
“They look at our club and say, ‘you’re doing it right’,” Cohan said. “You have to respect their new phase in life and make sure that the leadership positions are taken on by the 15, 16-year olds.”
Cohan’s daughter Marin, a high school junior at Madison East, is currently the reigning North American champion of unicycle cyclocross, a type of cycling that involves a course filled with obstacles that riders must navigate throughout the race.
It’s one of Marin’s favorite races to run in competition, along with freestyle which allows for riders to put on a choreographed show for spectators.
“It’s something you progressively get better at,” Marin said. “You have to put in the time and practice, and other riders are more than willing to help you learn.”
Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association President Jonny Hunter got into the sport through his kids after they started attending the practices at O’Keefe.
“The Mad Uni Club is a fixture of the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood,” Hunter said. “Every day you see kids and adults using unicycles as a way to get around.”
The Club’s investment into providing equipment, camps, lessons and activities to those who want to learn is a large reason as to why the neighborhood is home to such a large concentration of cyclists in the area, Hunter said.
The supportive culture that focuses on skill development and fun is an added bonus according to Hunter.
“I’ve never seen a group more welcoming of new riders and supportive of their more advanced riders,” Hunter said. “And the skill level of some of these kids is beyond anything you would expect someone to do on a unicycle and that is because we have a culture where the kids are constantly pushing themselves to do more tricks.”
The Madison Unicycling Club will host the NAUCC again in June and July 2020.