URBANA, Ill. — He considers himself shy, but when David Winston hops on his unicycle or picks up his juggling pins, he becomes a true performer, capturing the attention of everyone around him.
He twists, jumps, tosses pins under his legs--all while balanced atop his single, spinning wheel.
And he makes it look easy.
Although his talents may astound and amuse, he's by no means a clown. In fact, he resents those who view unicycling, his forte, as a circus sport.
"Somewhere along the line, unicycling took on a circus role," Winston said. "The circus has a lot of mystique, but it gave unicycling a black-sheep image. People associate the unicycle with clowns and freaks.
"Unicycling is a good, creative outlet. It's a way to invent in an area that hasn't really been tapped. And it's a way of expressing myself as an individual in an unusual art form."
The tricks possible on a unicycle provide riders with "a terrific mental challenge" as they strive to conquer the old and create the new, he said.
But Winston admits that the attention and recognition he receives while on his cycle provide some inspiration.
"I don't think unicycling would be worth my while with no audience," he said.
"It gives me an excuse to perform. But the unicycle can also serve as a kind of crutch. Riding is a way to get a rise out of people without fully exposing myself.
"I can be a ham sometimes. The feeling you get knowing you are doing something that barely anyone else can do is indescribable."
This is visibly true in the expressions on people's faces when they see Winston in action. Children murmur "Cool!" and "Wow!" as they watch him.
But surprisingly, Winston talks more about the negative feedback he gets from people who see him riding.
"I get looks every day I ride this thing," he said.
People sometimes sing circus tunes or yell such things as, "Where's your other wheel?"-- actions he views as hostile.
'Considered Giving Up'
"Jocks see me riding and think, 'Here's some kid that doesn't look very strong, but he's doing something that I can't so I'll give him a hard time,' " he said. "At times, I've considered giving it up."
Fortunately, Winston decided against giving up and has forged ahead toward lofty heights in the unicycling world.
At the recent unicycling championships in Tokyo, Winston took third in the freestyle event in the over-19 category. At last year's competition in New York, he took second place in the same group.
"I was not happy with my routine," Winston said of this year's performance. "I fell a lot because I was trying to do stuff I knew wasn't rock solid."
But "there were a few tricks I did that no one else is doing yet. I did them successfully and I was happy about that," he said.
Unicyclists worldwide would like to see the sport eventually attain Olympic status, but they realize they'll have a long wait.
Not only is the Olympic committee strict on adding new sports, but an Olympic event needs to have 40 or 50 countries participating. Unicycling currently has about 12, Winston said.