The Valley’s own Panther Pride Unicycle Team recently defeated the reigning champions of 24 years to become the number one unicycle club in North America.
Along with a first-place title for the club, earned at the North American Unicycling Convention and Championships held in July in Rapid City, S.D., Panther Pride members also brought home first-place positions in the expert categories for individual and pairs competitions.
Becky Banning placed first for her individual routine and her pairs routine with partner Chantelle Troutman-Watson.
Other competitiors included Morgan Alverson, Jan Bunger, Nicole Crook, Brianna Kelly, Isaiah Leitz, Kelly Oberbillig, Omri Reeves, Brittany Rupert, Ron Rupert, Pele Schramm, Jessica Shilot, Sara Shilot, Jalenica Troutman-Watson, Bailey Wyrsch, Erin Wyrsch, Erin Wyrsch and Graice Lu Wyrsch.
“I’m proud of the kids,” said coach Alan Tepper. “They deserve it, because they are top notch riders. They work hard, and above and beyond that, they’re good people.”
There’s no doubt for Tepper that the unicycle group’s efforts carry over to other areas of their lives.
“Whenever you put so much energy into something, and you learn how to set goals, how to make your mistakes and learn from them, and continue on, that carries over,” he said.
When riders are out in front of an audience, “they’ve got to nail it, they’ve got to do it with grace and skill,” Tepper said.
For championship team member Isaiah Leitz, as for many of the riders, Panther Pride is about friendships and connections.
“It’s more like a big family,” he said.
North Bend teen Becky Banning, now a junior at Mount Si High School, started on the Panther Pride team in the third grade.
She said the national championship is a goal she’s aspired to for the last seven years.
Her favorite trick is gliding, “where you pedal really fast, and you take your feet off the pedal and put them on the tire, as a brake.”
Needless to say, balancing on a moving wheel is tricky. Banning’s advice to young riders: “You’ve got to have a lot of patience to keep going.”
“It takes a long time, but it’s really worth it,” she added.
“Stay with it, because it takes a long time to learn,” Leitz said.
Over 200 awards were earned by the Panther Pride competitors in the various artistic, track and trials events.
Many team members hope to compete in the World Competition in New Zealand in December 2009.
A non-profit organization, Panther Pride has team members from all over the area, from Puyallup to Sammamish to Sultan, and includes ages 5 to adult.
To learn more about the team, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact coach Alan Tepper at the North Bend Elementary gym office.