With one wheel and a big heart, this unicyclist is raising money for kids’ cancer research

A Big Island graphic artist is drawing on his physical fitness to help kids who have cancer by taking a ride around the island on one wheel.
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:57 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 5:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Paolo Piro got his first taste of riding a unicycle during the early days of the pandemic. Sixteen months later, he’s setting off on the ride of his life.

“I’m riding all the way around Hawaii,” he said.

He means that literally. He’s circling the entire Big Island to raise money for cancer research for children through the annual Great Cycle Challenge.

“I personally pledged to do 500 miles. The lap itself is about 350, so I pledged 150 over that,” he said.

While other participants around the United States are using two wheels, he’s riding on one. And with no gears or brakes, he has only pedal power to speed up or slow down.

“It’s definitely, considerably harder,” he said. “For one thing you can’t coast. So we’re actually pedaling every foot of all of that.”

The Great Cycle Challenge goes through September. Piro has split his ride into sections, and people have pledged money for every mile he completes.

“Not only am I getting to see some of the most beautiful views in the world, I get to help people while doing it,” he said.

Piro is part of a small team of unicyclists called Team Big Island Lap.

“Just having his expertise, knowing what to watch out for. He’s been super helpful with planning out the trip, planning out the route and being able to figure out all the logistics,” fellow rider Owen Farmer said.

Piro and his teammates are trying to raise $5,000 for the challenge and Wednesday is an important donation day.

“You’ll be matched up to 100%, depending on how long the funds last. Usually, it’s a pool of a couple million dollars,” he said.

Piro started riding a unicycle for exercise. Now the 48-year-old Pahoa resident is hooked even though the spills can be painful. He averages a fall every other week.

“Every so often you go down hard. About a month and a-half ago I fractured my wrist. I was able to take the brace off just before the challenge,” he said.

Piro’s professional background is in graphic design and cartooning. He calls himself the Unitoonist.

To make a pledge toward Piro and the team’s effort, click here.

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