One wheel is all these kids need

MIDDLEBURY — Some students who attend Mary Hogan Elementary and Middlebury Union Middle School walk to school during the warmer months. Others ride their bikes.
But two students, a brother and sister, take a unique form of transportation — the unicycle.
Eighth-grader Nico Gori-Montanelli pedals to the middle school every day, while his sister, fifth-grader Saskia, rolls her way to the elementary school.
The siblings did not learn how to ride unicycles from their parents, Lorenzo and Danielle, who readily admit they don’t have the skills (or patience!) to learn. Rather, Nico decided on his own that he wanted to learn how to ride.
“I just had the idea,” Nico said.
“Last summer he said by the end of the summer he wanted to do it,” his mother added.
Nico’s grandparents bought him a starter unicycle, and throughout last summer he taught himself to ride through viewing YouTube video tutorials.
“You just try it until you do it,” Nico said.
When Nico learned to ride proficiently, he got a new unicycle and passed his training unicycle on to his sister. But it soon fell apart (while she was riding it, no less), and she got one of her own.
“When you’re learning, it keeps crashing on the ground,” Lorenzo explained.
SASKIA, LEFT, AND Nico Gori-Montaneli. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Nico said the hardest part is learning how to mount the unicycle. At first, he used a trash can as a stepping stool to get on.
“I still can’t get on,” Saskia chimed in — one of her parents has to follow her to Mary Hogan each morning to help her get off the one-wheeler.
Dismounting is no cinch, either. Unicycles don’t have gears or brakes, so riders just have to jump off when they’re done.
It takes Saskia about 15 minutes to ride from the family’s home on Fields Road to Mary Hogan. Nico, heading in the opposite direction, can make the quarter-of-a-mile trip to MUMS, which is closer, in about a minute. Nico said it took him a couple months before he was adept enough to ride to school.
Asked if they sustained many bumps and bruises while learning to ride, Nico shrugged his shoulders but was quick to rib his sister.
“She did,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the siblings said they’ve received some comments from classmates about their chosen transportation. Saskia said a common refrain is, “Cool!”
“They get a lot of thumbs up, honks and smiles on their way to school,” Danielle said.
According to the Unicycling Society of America (yes, such an organization does exist), as many as a million Americans ride unicycles, which were invented in the 19th century.
But though they cherish their one-wheel contraptions, Saskia and Nico don’t turn up their noses at the unicycle’s two-wheeled cousin. They enjoy bicycling, but admit that unicycling is much more difficult.
“It’s a lot different,” Saskia said.
Lorenzo is Italian, and Saskia and Nico spent many of their formative years living in Italy before the family relocated to the United States two years ago (Danielle is a native of Washington, D.C.).
“Where we lived in Italy, you could never dream of walking or riding a bike to school,” Danielle said. “The roads were so narrow, and very dangerous.”
Lorenzo and Danielle said that they’ve never tried to learn to unicycle, no doubt aware that bumps and bruises take much longer to heal in adulthood. Plus, they’d probably have to come up with a carnival schtick if they all rode.
“We would be too much like a circus family,” Lorenzo joked.
Saskia and Nico plan to keep riding their unicycles to school so long as the weather permits, honing their skills. Who knows, maybe a career in entertainment is in their future.
“People already think that one of us is in the circus,” Saskia said.

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