October Wheel Weekend. My teacher, Mickey Dupont, had hyped up this event so much that I couldn’t be any more excited. Wheel Weekend in Chicago was an event for Cyr and German wheelers to attend and learn skills from coaches, showcase routines, and experience the wheel gymnastics community. Although Mickey told me in depth about the event, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
I drove down to Chicago the night before and planned to stay with Rachel, a good friend from high school, for the weekend. As stoked as I was, the drive felt like it took no time at all. Going to sleep that night, I was looking forward to three days of progress, inspiration, and perhaps some frightening new skills with my wheel.
I drove to Willye White Park, where we were supposed to meet. After getting the smallest peek inside the gym full of German wheelers, a tall, direct man—who I’d later find our was Wolfgang Bientzle—let me know that the Cyr wheelers were meeting a couple miles away at Chase Park. No problem. Off I went.
Finally, I arrived. Just in time. To my surprise, there were just five of us there. Silver Minekawa, a beginner like me; Joe Yonek, a Cyr wheeler and acro-balancer; Isaac Hou, my inspiration for starting Cyr wheel; and our coach, Eric Deschênes. I was shocked. Isaac Hou?! The one from the videos? And, though I had no idea at the time, Eric was the Cyr wheel coach for Cirque do Soleil’s school ENC (École National de Cirque). It was quite a day—and it hadn’t even begun!
After we were all warmed up and stretched, Eric took his time cycling around to each one of us and teaching or helping us with moves as the morning went on. I worked on flags, proper basic coin form, corner variations, spindle waltz, and spindle coins. These were eight-hour days of nothing but spinning. It was exhausting and hard on the hands. But each callous, blood blister, or bruise meant that much more progress.
We broke for lunch at some point. Isaac suggested we eat at Co Co Vietnamese Sandwiches & Pho— not far from the park. The walk, break, and food were especially welcome! Lunches and dinners out with wheelers and cirque performers would later make up many of my fondest memories of places around the world. So, after a quick chat and getting to know one another more, we headed back to the gym.
The rest of the day was filled with myriad low-intensity drills that were easier on our fatigued bodies. Eric had us waltz in a straight line, in a straight line with one hand, and—if we could—waltz in a circle opposite the direction of our spin. This was done to build a commanding control over where we travel with the wheel, as it is beneficial to all spinners. We worked on uneven waltz as well. This let us explore new movement sensations and weight-transfers in the wheel. This drill, in particular, encourages a rider to find unorthodox movement styles and shapes.
I had finally achieved spindle coins, and both Eric and Issac were impressed with my quickness. I spent the remainder of my work time that day drilling other possibilities from spindle. This led to my pursuit of spindle full-twists and the like. By the end of the first day, I was beat.
Before we left, there was talk of going out to a bar— Eric loves quality beer. So after stopping by Rachel’s to shower and change, I took Chicago’s train—the L—to Hopleaf, the bar where we were meeting. The temperature was perfect, the atmosphere was chill, and I was in a city I enjoyed with friends who shared my passion. I entered the bar to find Joe and Eric chatting and quickly joined them. I ordered a sausage appetizer and joined the conversation. Wolfgang and another German wheel coach arrived shortly after. We spoke about Eric and Wolfgang’s plans for Cyr and German wheel competition, the USA Wheel Gymnastics Federation and the IRV (International wheel gymnastics). We spoke about the Difficulty Catalogue, as well as competition requirements such as scoring. Nationals would be in Chicago in March, while the World Championships would be help in Switzerland in May. I had my hopes set high.
Another eight hours of intense training! I wrapped my hands so I could train through the blood blisters. I explored many new shapes and waltz variations. I also worked on cleaning up hanging full-turns, front handsprings, and trailing corners. We ate at Co Co’s again for lunch. In the afternoon, we spotted one another with bombs and back pull-overs. We did more drills and a lot of stretching the second day.
We did end early, as there was an event scheduled for the early evening. Parents and children came to watch us perform. The gym wheel children performed group routines. There was an aerialist, a unicycle routine, and each of us Cyr wheelers performed a number we had prepared. I used my showcase routine from the month prior, as that was all I had. The gym wheelers took a liking to me right away. Many of us were fast friends. Those who were old enough decided to join the adults (which was really just the Cyr wheelers and coaches) out for dinner and drinks later that night.
We ate at yet another Vietnamese place for dinner. I think the nights out after a long day of spinning are unforgettable. No matter where in the world you are, circus people are like a family. We all know our passion so intimately, and it’s great to bond and chat lightheartedly about it over food and share ideas, inspiration, and plans. We spoke about how Eric has trained with all the best Cyr wheelers in the world. Chris Thomas, Angelica Bongiovonni, Charlie Wheeller, Shena Tschofen, Justin Dale, and Bobby Cookson are just a few. We talked about some of the crazy moves Charlie was up to, or where other wheelers were going and performing. Eric even encouraged me to audition for ENC. After a warm evening of excellent food and conversation, we retired to our hotels and hosts.
Our final day: back handsprings, blisters, short goodbyes . . .
The final morning was rough. But we had only a half-day. I spent that time working on the beginnings of back handsprings, and I had some new combinations from spindle and uneven waltz to explore on my own. Not to mention spindle coins. While the shorter day was very welcome, it also meant that I’d be returning to training without some of my newly-made family members. We finished the third day and said our goodbyes. But that was okay—I’d see them again in a while. . .
I made the long drive back to Minnesota. Sad to leave, but so excited to see what the next step in my adventure would turn out to be.