Imagine a set of children’s monkey bars that have been turned into a circle the size of a tractor tire — that’s what the German wheel is like, the apparatus used in wheel gymnastics.

In March 2015, for the second year in a row, Carly Schuna ’06 won the U.S. Open All-Around Competition in wheel gymnastics. She’ll compete in the Wheel Gymnastics World Championships in Italy in June 2015.

“Grinnell College is really encouraging of weird, idiosyncratic, niche interests people have,” Schuna says.

At Grinnell, she did nothing athletic. But when she first tried the German wheel at a juggling festival, Schuna says, “I never wanted to get off.” She bought her own wheel six weeks later — this from a woman who hates exercise.

“The German wheel’s fun factor so totally outweighs the amount of physical effort it takes to do it,” she says. It’s so much fun, she says, that she’s motivated to do weight training and lots of cardio exercise to make herself stronger so she’s better on the wheel.

She’s been studying the German wheel for about three years.

“In a way, I don’t feel like I have any right to be in an international gymnastics competition,” Schuna says. When she competes in Italy, she’ll be competing against women who’ve been doing German wheel gymnastics for at least 10 years.

But one thing Schuna learned while at Grinnell, she says, “If you have the potential to develop, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it.

“Wheel gymnastics is a huge part of my life. It’s something I never expected,” she says. “I don’t have a gymnastics background at all, so it doesn’t come naturally to me to point my toes and do all of the things you have to do in competition. Learning all of that is a continuous process.”

Carly Schuna '06 hangs upside down inside her German wheelSchuna is able to put so much time and effort into the German wheel because she’s put her English major to good use in her primary job as a freelance children’s writer. She freelances for Highlights, the well-known children’s magazine, among many other publications.

The freelance nature of her work gives her a ton of flexibility so she can practice German wheel as much as she wants. As a result, she’s become a certified wheel gymnastics coach who coaches several times a week at Madison Circus Space in Madison, Wis., an organization she helped found.

“I’m lucky to have more than one job, and both things that are totally unusual,” Schuna says. “I don’t fit in any boxes and I’m really proud of that."

 

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