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For most of us, riding a unicycle would probably be enough of a balancing act by itself. But some unicyclists need more of a challenge. Unicycle hockey might be as close to a complete body workout as it gets. As the name suggests it's two sports in one, unicycling and hockey. Katherine Opitz has the story about this unusual sport.

 

Unicycle hockey doesn't have a very high recognition factor, yet. Here in the U.S. there are currently only a few places with active teams. But unihockey is starting to catch on. One place with an active group of players is Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. The unicycle is a popular form of transportation at the school and uni sports are part of campus life.

"Unicycling is a tradition in my family and when my grandfather heard that I was coming to Harvey Mudd, he pulled out the old family unicycle and took me out to a baseball dugout and set me up," Matthew Lawson says.

Lawson's the president of Gonzo Unicycle Madness at Harvey Mudd. The club has existed at the college since the early seventies. Back then, a group of students decided to buy five unicycles and recruit others on campus by teaching them to ride. Lawson carries on the tradition. He says before you can learn how to ride, you have to learn how to let go of the unicycle without hurting yourself.

“First thing you always do when you learn how to unicycle is you learn how to fall. You learn that you can just stand up and let go of the uni at any point. If you don’t learn that right away, you're goin to hurt a lot” Lawson says.

Once you've mastered the getting up, the riding, and the falling - you're ready to play some hockey.

Wait, the rules:

"You have to be on the unicycle at all times when you're touching the ball, so you can't get off and play or dismount" Jamey Mossengren says.

That's Jamey Mossengren. I called him up at his shop for unicycles, parts and accessories in Orange County, California.

Mossengren believes hockey is a great way to learn unicycling, because you can use the hockey stick to hold yourself up on the unicycle. And the rules are easy.

“There's other more specific rules like you can't stick your hockey stick under someone's wheel and make them fall."

Protective gear like helmets, gloves and kneepads are strongly recommended. And watch out for those hockey sticks. Even though the game is about having fun, safety should always come first.

“If we have too many injuries or someone gets knocked out, that’s an issue, then the game ends then” Sundberg says.

That's unihockey referee, Chris Sundberg. I caught up with him at a unibasketball game. Sundberg is Dean of Activities at Harvey Mudd College. He says the club as seen it's up and downs. But Sundberg explains why the school is the perfect place for unicycle sports.

“That kind of stuff works real well - you’re getting a little bit of physical activity but it’s weird enough, unique enough and it’s not the typical sports that these guys probably played in high school" Sundberg says.

Jamey Mossengren is currently in the process of establishing a uni hockey club in Orange County. He hopes the sport will catch on despite stereotypes.

“I think as soon as people start seeing it as a sport and not a circus thing, it’ll catch on and it might be the next IT thing” Mossengren says.

Mossengren's been riding unicycles for almost twenty years. He is trying to field a team that he hopes could eventually compete on an international level.

"They do have championships every year nationally and every other year internationally. So eventually I'd like to create a good U.S. team that could win."

Mossengren has been at the championships before and holds several titles in mountain unicycling. That's mountain biking on a unicycle. He's hoping to add a title in unihockey at the 2010 championships in New Zealand.

Over at Harvey Mudd College most students are still taking their unihockey baby steps.

But every goal brings them a little bit closer to the visions of the Gonzo founding fathers.

For Intern Edition, I'm Katherine Opitz.

 

© NPR Intern Edition, Fall 2008