MADISON, Wis. - A lot of kids are eager to get out of the building as soon as they could be on a Friday afternoon, but throughout the school year, the gym at O’Keefe Middle School is filled with kids of all ages.
Jill Cohan found out the afternoon at the end of the week was the best time to use the space since there isn’t a lot of competition from other after-school groups.
I'm live with Madison Unicyclists this afternoon with one of our #BeYou ambassadors! And yes, I'm determined to master the unicycle before this is over. Updates to come... #news3now pic.twitter.com/JNW8A8FgHY— Dannika Lewis (@DannikaLewis) May 31, 2019
“If you're going to be here, you should sort of be part of the culture,” Cohan said. That culture is all about embracing the unconventional and proving that two is not always better than one.
“Whenever you go out on a unicycle out in the community, like, where's your other wheel? You're weird. You look like a circus performer,” Cohan said. “They stare at you, and yet, we all do it anyway because it is so cool, and it does make you unique and special.”
The Madison Unicyclists started about six years ago and has since expanded to a number of schools across the city. Cohan typically sees 50 kids – from kindergarten through teenagers – at the Friday sessions at O’Keefe. She puts the more experience riders in charge of teaching the rookies, which she says often becomes a competition of whose student catches on the fastest.
“It makes it their group, not my group. And they're all better than I am, which is really nice,” Cohan said.
After a few years of riding, sixth grader Jay Coleman has been to national championships with the group.
“It's really normal in Madison, I feel like,” Coleman said. “There's a lot of people here that do it, but it's really fun.”
Coleman’s best piece of advice to a novice unicyclist is to not give up.
“Keep going because it takes a really long time to learn this,” Coleman said, “and yeah, it's little adjustments.”
At one point, Cohan rode 500 miles on a unicycle over the course of a year. While she achieved that personal goal, she knows there’s always more to learn in this sport.
“Learning a new thing keeps you humble,” Cohan explained. “It keeps you remembering what that feels like, and that point of frustration where you just want to quit and the point of frustration where you want to throw the unicycle, and recognizing when you accomplish something, ‘okay, what do I want to do next?’”
Cohan is part of the #BeYou ambassador program with News 3 Now and SSM Health. The concept of kids being proud of their uniqueness is something she’s pushing every day.
“It's something that no one can take away. Once you learn to ride, it's a huge part of you,” Cohan said.
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