PERU, Ind. (AP) — It didn’t take 12-year-old Emily Gipson too long to learn how to ride a unicycle. Less than three weeks, in fact.
But riding a bicycle? That was a different story.
“She told us riding a bicycle was too hard,” said her mom, Wendy. “She said she wasn’t going to even try it. We all just laughed and said, ‘OK.‘”
But that’s what happens when you start riding a one-wheeler when you’re 7 years old, and your three older siblings are all unicycle pros.
“For me, it’s pretty simple to ride a unicycle because I’m used to it,” Emily told the Kokomo Tribune (http://bit.ly/1qK6W1P ). “A bicycle was a lot harder to pick up because I couldn’t get used to two wheels.”
But then again, the Gipson family isn’t a bicycle family. They’re a unicycle family.
The four kids — Gideon, Abigail, Caleb and Emily — have all been riding one-wheelers since they were 7 years old, and for the last three years, they’ve all been performing together in the 5-foot unicycle act in the Peru Amateur Circus.
That’s right.The 5-foot unicycle act. The Gipson kids are way past the little 3-foot, standard-sized cycles.
Gideon, 18, was the first to pick it up after his mom decided to enroll him in a cycling camp. He said it took him about a month-and-a-half to get the hang of it.
The three other siblings followed suit, each learning the ins and outs a little faster than the previous one.
Now, riding a 5-foot one-wheeler is a breeze for all of them. Wendy said she’ll even catch them eating pizza, texting or doing their hair while idling around on top of the unicycle during circus practice.
“It’s bizarre the stuff they do on them,” she said with a laugh. “But you can see how nonchalant they ride. It’s just second nature to them.”
It’s obvious how comfortable the four kids really are on a unicycle when watching them practice for the Circus City Festival, which kicks off Saturday and runs through the week.
Besides the Gipson kids, eight other unicyclists help put on the act, which looks like a well-oiled, one-wheeled ballet routine.
The kids loop around each other, duck beneath each other’s arms, balance in one spot and link arms and spin like they’re in a do-si-do. The performance ends with a choreographed fall as they all drop from their cycles to the ground with a unified thud.
Gideon is what’s called the “caller” during the act, shouting out the moves to make sure everyone’s timing is on target throughout the performance. Caleb, 14, usually serves as what’s called the “center” — the person at the middle of the troupe when they all lock arms for certain kinds of tricks.
Lauren Siblisk, a unicycle trainer for the circus, said it’s amazing how well all the Gipson kids get along, considering they’re siblings with only six years difference between the oldest and youngest.
“They all work well together. They don’t fight,” she said. “They’re really fun to be around, actually.”
With decades of unicycling experience already amassed between the four of them, Siblisk said they’re also great to have around to help train the younger kids in the circus starting to pick up the trade.
But even though they get along, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little friendly competition between the kids, who all attend North Miami Community Schools.
“It’s like Caleb knows a trick that we all don’t know, and Emily knows another trick we can’t do,” said 16-year-old Abigail. “It’s like we’re all trying to learn and keep up with the tricks we don’t know.”
Wendy confirmed that’s the case. She said each of her kids has a specialized unicycle skill.
For Gideon, it’s jumping rope while balancing on a one-wheeler. Abigail can pedal the bike with just one foot. Caleb knows how to ride up, then down, a see-saw. And Emily can zoom around on her stomach while pedaling with her feet.
They all know how to ride a unicycle backward.
“It’s kind of their goal,” trainer Siblisk said. “Try to make it to the 5-footer, and then see how many tricks you can learn on it.”
And those acrobatic unicycling skills have landed the kids gigs with the circus’ traveling roadshow. So far this year, they’ve already put on shows in Logansport and Kokomo, and they’re now scheduled to perform at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
In past years, they’ve gone as far as Iowa and Michigan to show off their skills and entertain crowds.
Wendy said unicycling has created a strong bond between her four kids, and the circus has taught them all the importance of cooperation and teamwork.
But whether any of them keep it up after leaving the circus has yet to be determined, she said.
“Gideon has already said he’s taking his unicycle whenever he goes to college,” Wendy said with a laugh. “I guess it’s going to be his transportation.”
The unicycle show is just one of more than 20 acts put on by kids all over Miami County during the Peru Circus City Festival.
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com