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No brakes? No gears? No handlebars? No problem.

March 1, 2011

No brakes? No gears? No handlebars? No problem.

Physical education major, aspiring shoe developer and recreational unicycler – not your typical prototype of a college student, but Tyson Bendzak fits the bill. A recent December graduate, Bendzak was the innovator behind the LUNICYCLERS club, an organization of students who get together and, simply, ride unicycles.“It gave me another chance to reach out and offer something new to the PLU community,” he said.

Bendzak is from the small town of Cordova, Alaska, just south of Anchorage, and said he picked up his first unicycle in fourth grade and has been riding ever since.

“My dad taught kids at my school how to ride,” he said. “He joked around asking if any of us would ever bring our unicycles to college.”

Bendzak did just that. He said he rode his unicycle to and from church when he first came to PLU, but never imagined his interest in riding would create something so popular.

During his sophomore year, Bendzak approached clubs and organizations with the idea of starting a unicycle club on campus. After a long process of gathering signatures and university approval, the club was officially approved in January 2009.

“I figured I might as well give it a shot,” Bendzak said. “I spent a lot of time figuring out if unicycles were even allowed on campus.”

LUNICYCLERS stands for “Lutes with a Unique and Nifty Interest in Carefully Yet Courageously Learning an Exquisitely Radical Skill.” A mouthful of an acronym, Bendzak said he had a hard time memorizing it himself.

The club’s humble beginnings saw a weekly turnout of about eight students, but before long there was a demand for more equipment as interest was growing. At the end of spring semester 2009, ASPLU appropriations committee approved $500 of funding for club members to purchase six unicycles and other equipment.

“All of a sudden there was a surge of people,” Bendzak said.

That surge has grown into what is today a popular campus pastime. Bendzak said at the beginning of this year, the club saw a turnout of nearly 20 members, and since has maintained a consistent turnout of about 15 members each week.

“I think I get the most enjoyment out of coming each week and seeing kids laugh,” he said. “It is cool to see the progress of some of the students who come and enjoy something that’s different.”

Anthony Markuson, a sophomore from Chester, Mont., signed up for LUNICYCLERS at the involvement fair his first year at PLU, attended one practice and never looked back.

“One time and I was hooked,” he said.

Markuson, like Bendzak, started riding in the fourth grade. He is a student of many interests, and participates in Progress and Biology Club, and holds positions as a Red Carpet Club tour guide and Resident Assistant.

Markuson said he is passionate about LUNICYCLERS because there is no ideal club member—everyone is welcome.

“We welcome all skill levels,” he said. “It’s like riding a bike, anyone can do it.”

Members of the club represent all areas of PLU, Markuson said. Students’ majors include everything from music to science, and there is a diverse mix of under and upper classmen.

Bendzak said LUNICYCLERS is one of the most culturally diverse groups on campus, representing men, women, international students and even football players.

With growing popularity and the graduation of its founder, LUNICYCLERS was in a transitional period and Markuson stepped up to continue the group and its mission.

“When people succeed or laugh or have fun, those are the things I love to see,” he said “This needs to continue and I want to make it happen.”

In the future, Markuson said, the club will hopefully have the opportunity for more public exposure. He plans to look into public appearances, or rides, and there has even been talk of including club members in Dance Ensemble 2011. Markuson said, however, this will depend on the progress of group members.

The club meets either in the UC or the Columbia Center Wednesdays at 7 p.m., and Markuson encourages anyone who is interested to attend.

“You can just show up,” he said.

Students are encouraged to attend even if they don’t plan on coming each week. Markuson said it is something different to do, and serves as a great study break for students with very stressful schedules.

“It’ the most fun you can have,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, but we are a supportive group.”