In Spanaway, unicycle competitors never tire

Staff writerMay 10, 2014 

Unicyclists raced, high-jumped and navigated an obstacle course in Spanaway on Saturday, displaying their skill and balance while riding on one wheel.

Spanaway organizers called it the Uni-Olympics, combining Olympic-style events with unicycling.

Thirty-nine unicycle riders, from 5 to 54 years old and from as far away as Spokane, competed for medals, plaques and, simply, fun.

Outside at Spanaway Lake High School, unicyclists “bunny-hopped” — bouncing on one wheel — before high-jumping over a plastic bar. They pedaled slowly and balanced their bodies to hold on the longest during the “slow race.” And they pedaled rapidly before leaping and landing on their single wheels in the long jump.

Eleven-year-old Sokchea Pen of McKenna cleared 9 inches during an extra try at the high jump.

“That was nice,” said George Goss, coach of the PAWS (Performing Awesome Wheeled Stunts) team from McKenna. Sokchea wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m going to go for 10,” the boy said.

“I like the competition,” he said. “It’s challenging, but not too hard.”

The Spanaway One Wheelers club came up with the Olympics theme and put on the event.

“We’re just doing it for fun to try to get something started in the community,” said Mike Niederle, who leads the club with his wife, Emily.

They formed the club when their four children — who competed Saturday — wanted to keep riding after learning unicycling in elementary school.

Mike Niederle said the goal is for the Uni-Olympics to be an annual event in Spanaway. Unicycling has similar national and international competitions.

“This is a trial run,” Niederle said. He was pleased with the turnout.

The unicyclists competed in different groups based on their skill level.

Victoria Massey, 8, of Snoqualmie sought to outlast her competitor in the slow race.

“Looks good,” a race volunteer said after the race started. “Way to go, ladies.”

Victoria pedaled slowly, stayed on her unicycle for the entire 50 meters and never stopped moving forward. That’s why she won.

“It’s a lot harder than a bicycle,” Victoria said afterward. “It’s actually a pretty good feeling.”

Kenny Cason, 54, was the oldest among the group. He’s a coach with the Snoqualmie Valley Unicycle Club.

“As long as you finish, I think you’re doing pretty well,” Cason said. “There’s always something new to learn.” Rule No. 1 is focus, Cason said.

“If you don’t, you’ll fall,” he said. “I’ve found if you’re not falling, you’re not learning.”

The events weren’t easy. Riders took some hard falls and got back up for more.

Anthony Chipres, 11, of McKenna said unicycling is fun because you get to “bunny-hop and do really cool tricks.” Phil Sanders, 27, came from Spokane.

“I am in love with unicycling,” Sanders said. “I love that it’s always hard.”

When you land a trick after much hard work, Sanders said, “It’s the most satisfying thing in the world.”

Noli Ergas, 31, of Seattle has been unicycling for 10 years. Riding on one wheel is a basic idea.

But with all the tricks and jumping, Ergas said, “There’s so much to do.”

Sokchea’s mom, Stephanie Everett, said she’s seen her son gain motivation and focus from unicycling.

As he demonstrated at the Uni-Olympics, Sokchea keeps striving to do more on one wheel.

“There’s no limit to it,” Everett said.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647;; @TNTstevemaynard

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