Post pandemic living
The winter blues propelled Nicole Mitchell to try something new. “I had to get out because I was going crazy inside my house.”
The pandemic further spurred on her new undertaking. She laughs at the good fortune of choosing a solitary sport, riding a unicycle.
“Hey, it’s a bonus. Everybody clears out when I come by.”
Covid isolation took its toll on the single 54-year-old. “I’m a very social person. I gain satisfaction from my job because I work with children, but my social life outside of work was greatly affected. I’ve got to get out, move my body, go and live.”
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Finding inspiration in her brother — who was quite fit after starting unicycling the year before — Nicole coughed up $150 for her new ‘wheel’ found on Facebook marketplace.
With a few tips from her brother and self-lessons from YouTube, she headed outside her condo. “I spent about 15 or 20 minutes just trying to sit on it. To do a rotation, that took about two months, maybe more.” Today, she cycles over four kilometres.
In early 2020, Nicole headed to Ben Lee Park in the Rutland community of Kelowna. Here she found a new training ground in the boarded hockey rink and learned the mantra of most sports, just let go.
“I would cycle as much as I could, hanging on with one arm. Like at the skating rink, you hang on to the edge, your feet slipping all over the place. Well, the same thing with the unicycle, eventually you have to let go and trust that you’ll move with your forward motion.”
Nicole is a believer in positive self-talk. “I talk to myself out loud. Look forward. Centre yourself. Relax in your seat.”
The process was not without its bumps and bruises. “I was wearing shin guards, wrist guards and a helmet,” she says.
“Commit to falling, either forward or backwards. Forward is best, just make sure your feet land on the ground. My feet would decide to go backwards while my body went forwards. My shins took a beating.”
A special-needs teacher assistant at Glenmore Elementary, Nicole frequently breaks down a skill, like tying a shoe or bouncing a basketball. She found that taking little pieces of work at a time, like timing how far she would ride before taking a break, kept the learning manageable.
“How many times have I taken my own advice?” she says. “You tell kids, ‘That’s OK, just keep trying. You fall. Pick yourself up. Get back on.’
“Some of the children that I work with are on the Autism spectrum and can be hard on themselves, always wanting to get it right the first time. Nobody does. You remind them, ‘Hey, remember when you first started. Look how far you’ve come.’
“When you’re taking up a new skill, you don’t get it right the first time. Pick away and given time you’re going to gain something from it, something of value.”
Beyond the mental exercise from learning a new sport, Nicole is now welcoming fitness benefits.
“At first, you’re using your whole body. You’re trying to balance, and your arms are going all over the place, but once you settle into the seat it’s all about the quads.”