College senior rides her unicycle down the state of Alabama for Louie’s Kids

University of North Alabama student Lauren Schifano recently completed “Unicycle Across Alabama” to help fight childhood obesity and to raise money for the Charleston-based nonprofit, Louie’s Kids.

Every summer I’m bombarded with story ideas about someone riding their bike across the country, or a state, or a region for a charity. Same goes for paddling, hiking, running, you name it.

Most people mean well, though I also often wonder how much of it is for ego and how much of it is about charity. No matter, it is an adventure. But few warrant a story.

When I heard about 25-year-old Lauren Schifano’s recently completed “Unicycle Across Alabama,” which was passed along to me via a colleague, it intrigued me.

When I checked it out, the first thing that struck me is that her feat was misnamed. She didn’t ride her unicycle “across” Alabama. She rode “down” it, an even longer route, 400 miles from Florence to Gulf Shores, via Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and past Mobile.

Secondly, Schifano selected Charleston-based Louie’s Kids as her charity, even though she had only visited South Carolina (Greenville, at that) once in her life.

She wanted to do something for a charity fighting childhood obesity in the trenches, and her research led to Louie’s Kids.

Founder and Executive Director Louis Yuhasz, who has never met Schifano in person, wasn’t particularly surprised at receiving manna from heaven.

“Well I think it’s pretty amazing but it’s not out of the ordinary for us at this point,” says Yuhasz, noting the charity’s expanding efforts in Charlotte, Savannah and Nashville, and events such as the Slim Down the South celebrity softball game.

“It’s probably very likely more folks like Lauren will find us. When I first heard about the unicycling across Alabama, I thought ‘Great!’ I mean, think about it, that’s going to bring us a lot of attention and it’s going to bring us a lot of kids who really, really need our help.”

Along the same lines as Schifano, Yuhasz says a 63-year-old man, Richard Haag of Aurora, Colo., recently embarked on a 2,000-mile bike ride from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico, for Louie’s Kids. And, as always, you can follow his progress on his blog and Facebook page, “Old Guy on a Bike: Ride for Childhood Obesity.”

Back to Schifano. Why a unicycle?

“No one can look at a unicycle and not smile,” says the rising senior at the University of North Alabama, adding that she thinks the “circus arts” are an avenue for kids to learn to enjoy physical fitness.

Schifano started her ride on Aug. 4, rode between 35 and 45 miles per day, and finished Aug. 17. She had a crew that followed her on bicycles and in a vehicle. They camped and stayed in the homes of strangers who invited them in (which seems to always happen on these adventures).

Thanks primarily to a press release by the University of North Alabama, she got some press coverage along the way. But it appears it wasn’t a major concern of hers. She kept supporters posted via a Facebook page, “Unicycle Across Alabama.”

Just preparing for the feat was a testament to her dedication.

Despite being a marathon and ultra marathon runner, Schifano, an exercise science major, knew she had to log lots of miles on the unicycle before her ride.

It wasn’t easy. She works 50 hours a week at two jobs, one full-time at a health food store and the other part-time at a cafe. So to fit her unicycling training in, she started at 5 a.m. and rode three to four hours a day.

The work paid off. Not until the second to last day did she have any problems other than “saddle issues” (and traffic).

“People told me that I didn’t have to worry about hills in south Alabama. Well, they were wrong, south Alabama is hilly,” says Schifano, adding that she had some knee problems that one day.

For such a feat, her fundraising goals for Louie’s Kids were modest, about $2,000. So far she’s raised about $3,000, but she’s hoping for more before sending the check to Charleston.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postandcourier.com.

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