If you’re out and about in the coming week — at the Farmers' Market, AtwoodFest, the Arboretum or just hanging out at Tenney Park — you’re likely to encounter young people doing things you never thought possible on one wheel.
That’s because from Saturday to Aug. 1, Madison will play host to the North American Unicycle Convention and Championships, which will field more than 200 unicyclists from over 30 states and Canada. And many of those competitors will be making the rounds at various local venues to draw attention to one of the world’s rapidly growing sports.
About 50 of those competitors will be from right here in Madison, where an east side unicycling craze has taken root and branched out to other parts of the city.
“We definitely have the biggest turnout from Madison riders than ever before,” said Patricia Wilton, who with her brother Scott Wilton and school program organizer Jill Cohen is organizing the event. “Especially for a lot of kids who come from the school programs who’ve never competed before, it’s really exciting for them to get the opportunity.”
The competitions will include track races, a marathon, street tricks, hockey, basketball, mountain unicycling and freestyle, which incorporates agility, dancing and gymnastics — think figure skating on a unicycle. (Here's a schedule of events.)
“Top riders from Madison and across the country will show spectators that just about any sport there is can be done on one wheel and done at an amazingly competitive level. It is truly awe-inspiring to see the level of athleticism in these competitors,” Cohan said.
All events are free and open to the public. And while some take place in outlying areas — the marathon is at Lake Kegonsa and the mountain competition is at CamRock Park — most are in the city. The popular trials (outrageous unicycle tricks) will be at the Goodman Community Center, the freestyles at Winnequah School in Monona and the criterium street race and cyclocross events in the Tenney Neighborhood, which is ground zero for Madison’s vibrant unicycling scene. (The Capital Times featured Madison's talented unicyclists and the local MadUni club in an October cover story.)
It’s also home to the Wiltons, who have taught dozens of kids how to ride, coached them and gone with them to past national competitions, including last year's contest in Bloomington, Minnesota. This year the Wiltons will watch the kids compete on their home turf.
“Last year we had pretty good results, so I think this year we’re hoping to see the kids do really well not only in their age groups but in some of the overall competitions as well,” said Wilton.
Scott Wilton, a three-time world champion in the 10k and a two-time world champion in the marathon is also a world record holder in both events.
Counting Wilton, there will be six world champions in town for the event, which was last held in Madison in 2011.
Aside from organizing the event, Patricia Wilton will be defending the 10K title, as well as competing in track races, mountain racing and freestyle events.
So come Aug. 1, when the nationals wind down, she’ll be ready for a break, right?
“The day after nationals I’m flying to Europe for the European championships. I’m going to be the freestyle director there,” she said. “So not really.”