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Saving kids from Lagos streets with unicycling

Members of GKB Unicycling Academy at a training session in Gbagada, Lagos.

A study by the United Nations Children’s Education Fund shows that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, while about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. These ugly statistics worry young Olalekan Kuyoro, the proprietor and coach of GKB Unicycling Academy at Gbagada, Lagos State.

Olalekan, a passionate athlete in his mid-20s, has chosen to use what he knows how to do best, that is unicycling, to divert the attention of young children from all forms of crimes and atrocities to productive activities such as unicycling. His target is to take away a million kids from the streets using the technicality of coaching unicycling.

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A unicycle is a vehicle that touches the ground with only one wheel. The most common variation has a frame with a saddle, and has a pedal-driven direct drive. Unicycling is practised professionally in circuses by street performers, in festivals and as a hobby. Unicycles have also been used to create new sports such as unicycle hockey. In recent years, unicycles have also been used in mountain unicycling, an activity similar to mountain biking or trials.

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Kuyoro does not only ride the unicycle, he also coaches children in Gbagada, Bariga and other parts of Lagos on how to become professional unicyclists. His desire is to get young children out of slums and the streets to focus on more productive activities.

“We have many idle children roaming the streets where they can easily fall prey into the hands of evil people who can lure them into crime and other nefarious acts,” he said.

“I used to be a skater about seven years ago. On a fateful day, I went to the popular Ladipo market to buy the roller skate. There, the seller introduced the unicycle to me, calling it a one-tyre bicycle. Initially, I didn’t like it. But a few days later, I went back to him to buy it and that was how I started learning. It was difficult for me to teach myself; it took me weeks to be able to ride a few kilometres. I didn’t relent, I kept learning, putting in more effort, energy and resources until I became very good at it.

“To some people, what I was doing was magical. To some others, it was an old school thing. As I was riding one day, a boy was looking at me so I encouraged him to join me, and that was how the GKB Unicycle Academy started.”

An Academy that started with only three kids can now boast of over 25 children, while more are indicating interest to enroll for the unicycling training. As a way to encourage the young ones to embrace unicycling, the training/coaching is free as it is difficult to convince parents to release their kids to learn the skills, let alone pay for it.

In his over six years of running the Academy, Kuyoro has been able to achieve great feats, which included his Academy winning the 2018 Lagos Grows Talent competition, which attracted a cash prize of N1 million and his emergence as President, Unicycling Africa.

He explained  on how he sustains the Academy: “We go for shows. Apart from participating in the 2018 Lagos Grows Talent competition where our Unicycling group won N1million, we had been to the Zenith Youth Parade and featured on AY Live. We had also done a couple of jobs with Ali Baba, among others. So we raise money from such events to sustain the Academy, including buying and maintaining the unicycles.”

The cost of a unicycle, according to him, ranges from N5,000 to N7,000, depending on the brand.

Saying life generally has still not been rosy for him, Kuyoro expressed his determination to help the younger generation attain greater heights. Lamenting how he found it very difficult to progress academically after his secondary education due to financial constraints, he, however, expressed optimism towards returning to school to study any course that has to do with coaching with a view to enhancing the growth of his Academy.

“Things were very difficult for me when I was supposed to write JAMB to seek admission into a tertiary institution so I decided to divert my energy to unicycling. I have, however, made up my mind to study coaching in a tertiary institution,” he said.

One of the major challenges he has encountered so far in the course of running the Academy was getting parents to release their wards for the unicycling project. “Because they see it as a new and unpopular kind of sporting activity, they initially didn’t want their wards to participate in it. But now that they are beginning to see their children perform in shows on television and featured in newspapers, they are happy and proud.

“More parents are now beginning to indicate interest but we are constrained by space. We need space to build a proper Academy. For now, we do our training on an open space in Gbagada, but we are calling on the government of Lagos State and lovers of unicycling to give the Academy a big space that can accommodate as many children as possible. It is better to engage the children in unicycling rather than allow them go into thuggery.”

Giving the Academy such a lift, he reiterated, would also bring popularity to the sport and could also lead to the assembling of unicycles in Nigeria.

“My goal is to have an Academy where millions of children, including the homeless, can learn unicycling rather than leave them to go wayward due to lack of care. That is the only thing that can give me fulfilment in life.

“All the children I coach at the moment go to school and only come for rehearsals in the evening after school. Because of the constant training, when people see them perform, they say it’s magic. It’s no magic but a product of constant practice. Unicycling helps the rider to burn calories and set his focus. While in the act, you have to talk to your mind while your mind has to be in line with your body and spirit,” he said, reiterating that the health benefits of unicycling are enormous.

It was observed that all the riders in training wore helmets as they exhibited different styles of flips and skills while riding. The helmet, Kuyoro said, was important to protect their heads.

“My goal is to have an Academy where millions of children can learn unicycling rather than go wayward due to lack of care. That is the only thing that can give me fulfilment in life,” he said.

 

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