One wheel wonder

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Last year Max Schulze won the title of unicycling world champion during competition in New Zealand

By Jennifer Garcia

Skateboarders riding handrails down staircases and doing highflying acrobatics are commonplace around Los Alamos. A unicyclist doing the same, however, is a rather unique sight.

If you frequent the park on North Mesa, you may catch a glimpse of world champion unicyclist Max Schulze and his friends practicing on their unicycles and doing tricks you may have thought only bicyclists could do.

Schulze, 18, of Los Alamos, has been riding his unicycle for about six years. He didn’t set out to be a world champion, however, that’s something that just came with practice, devotion and support from his family. Instead, Schulze discovered his talent by accident.

“My brother (Peter) and I bought a unicycle for our dad for Father’s Day. I started riding it and broke it, then I bought my own and broke it,” he said.

Schulze said he started riding the unicycle in his garage at home and would have to hold on to a van that was parked inside, so he could remain balanced. “Sometimes I’d get enough momentum to shoot out into the driveway,” he said.

Riding his unicycle started out as a way to have fun. He wasn’t out to set any world records. In fact, he said he had to convince himself that he’d eventually get the hang of riding it. He not only learned how to ride, but he became really good at it. He also became interested in competing.

As a result of his dedication to unicycling, Schulze put together a sponsorship video and was able to get on an international factory team owned by Kris Holm. Holm owns a unicycle manufacturing company and supplies Schulze with one unicycle per year, including maintenance parts. Holm expects his team members to be active in their communities and post videos of their unicycling abilities to the Internet. Schulze said he shoots a lot of videos and posts them to sites such as www.youtube.com and www.vimeo.com.

“I know people from all over the world,” Schulze said. “There are eight people on my team, three are from the U.S., one is from Brazil, one is from France, one is from New Zealand and two are from Germany. I only see my teammates at events, but I’ve traveled to California a few times to ride with my buddies.”

Schulze’s first competition was in 2008 in Rapid City, S.D. “I placed first in the speed trials and won a $600 cash prize,” he said. “I also placed third in the observed trials and second in the high jump.”

In December Schulze competed in Unicon, the International Unicycle World Championships and Convention, which was held in December in Wellington, New Zealand. It was during this competition that Schulze became the world champion.

“I placed first overall in experts trials and tied the world record in the high jump. I also placed third in street competition (which consists of tricks and spins, similar to those done in skateboarding),” he said. Schulze received three New Zealand jade stones as his award for becoming world champion. “Just being able to say that I’m world champion is the best part of that,” he said.

Though Schulze will graduate from Los Alamos High School next week, he said his plans to continue entering unicycling competitions will not be affected. “I’m graduating with honors and I plan on attending the Colorado School of Mines on a scholarship,” he said. Schulze said he plans to major in material sciences because he finds chemistry interesting and fun. He said his father, Roland works in material science at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is also an adjunct professor at the Colorado School of Mines.

Schulze said he has great support not only from his parents, but also from his brother Peter. “My dad takes photos of me a lot and my mom (Stephanie Hagelberg) gets excited when I do new tricks. My brother used to do downhill mountain biking, so he’s supported me a lot,” he said.

Schulze is gearing up for his next competition from July 10-18 in Berkeley, Calif. He’s also planning to attend the next Unicon, which will be held in 2012 in Italy.