World-class unicyclist, UI student making her mark on campus


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One wheel? No problem.

University of Iowa freshman Patricia Wilton is an internationally renowned unicyclist, and she recently competed at the international level in northern Italy. She came in fifth place for cross-country mountain unicycling in the 17- to 18-year-old female division.

“Unicyling is such a unique talent,” said the elementary-education major. “Balance and persistence are the main parts. You’re going to fall; the only way to improve is to get back up again.”

Wilton began unicycling at the age of 10 when she received a unicycle as a shared gift with her brother.  She learned in a few hours, and she contends that anyone could learn how to ride in just 20 hours of work.

“I learned in a week; they say it’s 24 hours, but when you’re younger, it’s much easier,” said the 18-year-old.

Competitively racing in the mountains isn’t her only skill in the unicycling world.

In 2011, she earned second place at a national competition in the long distance overall, which accumulates the best overall points earned in the 10K, marathon, and timed trial.

Wilton has participated in several types of unicycling competitions. She has also participated in artistic unicycling, which resembles figure skating with the use of routines, music, and costume.

She has earned second place in the peers’ artistic category of artistic cycling, performing a routine with her brother Scott Wilton. He is also highly skilled — he is a unicycle three-time world champion.

Patricia Wilton said artistic competitions are the most time-consuming and require the most effort. Half of the performance score is based on the technique, and the other half is derived from the performance.

Now, she trains at the Madison Unicyclists Club in Madison, Wis., where her mother Ann O’Brien is the president.

Though she doesn’t have a coach, she uses her peers and unicycling events to learn new techniques and tricks. Other unicyclists use Internet resources, including YouTube, to attain new skills.

While in high school, Wilton was a dancer, cross-country runner and gymnast, contributing to the endurance aspect of her training and her leadership skills, she said.

“She’s a natural leader, teacher and coach,” O’Brien said.

Since moving to Iowa City, Wilton said, she has missed helping and teaching the younger and less experienced cyclists.

“I mainly miss watching the younger kids and helping them get skills. I usually help make their routines for nationals,” she said. “It’s fun for me to see them win medals because unicycling is such a unique talent.”

Unicycling, a sport that isn’t recognized at the Olympic level, differs from nearly any sport for two reasons, father Jeff Wilton said.

“There’s no money in it — maybe two people in the world have sponsors for a little money,” he said. “And it’s hard to take yourself too seriously on a unicycle. You’re one step away from falling off.”

For him, unicycling is a family affair.

“Pretty much all of our family vacations since 2007 have all been unicycling events,” Jeff Wilton said.

These family vacations have taken Patricia Wilton and her family all over the world, including New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Denmark, Sweden, and most recently, Italy.

Patricia Wilton attributes much of her success to her parents’ support, including her mother’s involvement in leading her club.

“She does so much on the administrative side,” Wilton said. “Without her, we wouldn’t have traveled to so many places.”

With medals, experiences, and passport stamps under her belt, Patricia Wilton said the people she’s met have been her greatest prize.

“The best part is the community and how everybody is already unique because they’ve chose to unicycle,” she said.

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