Quaker Valley sophomore offering class on how to ride a unicycle

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Cassandra Heath has been riding her unicycle everywhere she can since she learned how four years ago as a member of the Quaker Valley Middle School Juggling Club.

Now, as part of her 10th-grade project, she's taking her knowledge and passing it onto others.

“I wanted to do something different,” said Cassandra, 15, daughter of Athena Heath of Sewickley.

She decided to hold classes to teach other students how to ride a unicycle. She taught her first class last week in the large gym in Sewickley Valley YMCA and two more classes will be offered from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Jan. 29.

The cost is $5 per class, which will be donated to the juggling club to possibly help purchase a new training unicycle because the one members had been using is now broken, said Jonathan Truchan, club leader for 15 years.

Cassandra said students in grades six to eight from any school are welcome to learn to ride and play games. No registration is needed, and unicycles and safety equipment will be provided by the juggling club.

Cassandra, who plays soccer and softball and wants to study graphic design, said the best thing about riding the unicycle is the reactions she gets from people who see her.

She said the hardest thing to learn is free mounting — getting on a unicycle without help of another object. The most fun is riding with friends.

For a quality unicycle that will last awhile, Cassandra said the cost can be about $300. Many are available online.

While in the juggling club, Cassandra was recorded in the club's Hall of Fame for riding the length of the long hall 11 times and unicycling while jumping rope four times in 2009; riding 7 minutes and 8 seconds without falling or touching and riding a 6-foot giraffe unicycle across the gym without falling or touching in 2010; and riding the 6-foot giraffe unicycle while throwing and catching a diabolo, a juggling prop, and doing the bunny hop while riding in 2011.

“This is a wonderful project she's doing,” Truchan said. “Every year, I mentor a student for the 10th-grade project, and I was wondering when someone would use the juggling club in some way,” he said.

He said learning the unicycle is not so easy and something many students have to take time to learn. Truchan said he learned by practicing in the alley outside his house and finally figured it out.

“Cassie has really mastered it. She's so good at it, and she came up with this new idea for teaching other kids for her project, and asked me what I thought,” he said.

Truchan told her, as he tells his other students, to do research on how to teach others and recommended some websites and videos for her to watch.

The juggling class, which in addition to focusing on juggling also teaches unicycling and stilt walking, is designed for middle school students. But, Truchan said Cassandra still comes to some of the meetings now held on Thursdays after school at Sewickley Valley YMCA, but soon will be moved to the newly remodeled Quaker Valley Middle School.

Truchan said since there are so many students learning to juggle — more than 100 members — it's hard for him also to focus on students who want to learn to ride the unicycle. So, he said he appreciates that Cassandra is so good at teaching the younger students. She also continues to improve on her own skills.

Over the years, Cassandra and other club members have participated in various events, including Salvation Army fund-raising activities while performing their skills in front of Safran's Supermarket before the Santa Parade in Sewickley.

She also won a unicycling award during a Family Juggling Night competition. Her older brother, Chris, also is a unicyclist and previously was a club member, and Cassandra now is teaching her younger brother, Nathan. “She's a great girl and really motivates a lot of kids,” Truchan said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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