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Old 2003-07-21, 08:18 PM   #57
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SHIRLEY DANG - The Oregonian
757 words
17 July 2003
The Oregonian
Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.


Summary: The One-Wheeled Wonders come together for practice before their performance in a Beaverton parade

The church that prays together, unicycles together.

That philosophy led 11-year-old Laura and 9-year-old Allison Millar to the One-Wheeled Wonders, a unicycling group from the New Vision Fellowship church that will take its place July 19 in the Beaverton SummerFest Parade.

The group debuted at the event two summers ago, a trail of streamers fluttering from the cycles' spokes. Laura recalls falling off her yellow Jugglebug model nearly 10 times last year when she tackled the 2-mile route for her inaugural ride.

"You definitely get tired after a 2-mile parade," Laura said.

They meet regularly

The Wonders count about 25 members, many of them groups of young siblings or whole families. They meet regularly at 3:30 p.m. each Sunday to practice.

Pastor Gene Grass started the group four years ago, channeling his love of the unicycle to his parish: one wheel, under God.

Occasionally, Grass delivers sermons while idling on his unicycle and juggling balls. He uses his props to demonstrate various life lessons: balancing one's responsibilities or having patience.

"I just did it a few weeks ago on endurance," Grass said. "The unicycle isn't something you learn overnight. It takes endurance."

Laura learned to ride from Grass two years ago on a church loaner. The seat is swathed in the requisite towel, for comfort, and wound with duct tape.

Each week, Grass came to the Millar driveway in Hyland Hills. Eventually, Laura started holding on to her father's car as he chugged slowly down the street. At the end of her journey, she marked the curb with chalk, leaving a series of tick marks on the street.

"Every day would be a new record," Laura said.

Stopping takes skill

After learning the crucial skill of stopping -- which essentially consists of falling forward and catching the seat before it hits the ground -- Laura is learning to turn, idle and pedal backward.

On a side street near the Millar house, the girls' mother, Anne, holds out one hand. Laura grasps it, tucks the seat under her blue stretch pants and pedals haltingly in reverse.

"If you've been unicycling forward for a long time, it feels really weird going backwards," she said.

Many church members live near the Millars, bringing a whole fleet of unicycles to the quiet suburban streets.

"It's not unusual to see a one-wheeled rider in this neighborhood," Anne Millar said. "We're just infested with unicycles."

Friend Julie Liggins counts three boys out of her five children as unicyclers, with another rider on the way.

"My daughter, who's 6, said she wants a unicycle for Christmas," Liggins said.

Her son R.J., 13, pioneered the family's obsession four years ago when he started his one-wheeled hobby. He has mastered the skill so well he can play saxophone at the same time, as he did in last year's parade. His 11-year-old brother, Rob, picked up the unicycle soon after, and 8-year-old Alex began in kindergarten.

Rob, an athlete, said unicycling does not compete with his love of other sports. In fact, he likes to combine them.

"I play basketball and football," Rob said. "I've played both on a unicycle."

Grass said unicycling helps give families time together to learn something new, sometimes about each other. And mastering an obscure skill can be great for kids.

"It's a confidence booster," Grass said. "Maybe they haven't excelled at something, or maybe they're real studious and kids make fun of them."

All that disappears when the congregation pedals duct-taped vehicles behind the church each Sunday afternoon, he said.

"One of the neat things is I've got people at all different levels," Grass said. "The others encourage them and say, 'I've been there.' "

Laura loves unicycling in a group, to pick up tips or see who's learning to do tricks such as the bunny hop. It's nice that just being on one wheel can get you attention, she said.

But she takes an almost Zen view of riding mono.

"I don't think there's a best or worst thing," she said. "You just get up and go."
Raphael Lasar

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