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Puna man to unicycle around Big Island to raise funds for children’s cancer research

  • Paolo Piro plans on riding his unicycle around the island to raise money for childhood cancer research. Special to West Hawaii Today

  • Paolo Piro plans on riding his unicycle around the island to raise money for childhood cancer research. Special to West Hawaii Today

  • Paolo Piro plans on riding his unicycle around the island to raise money for childhood cancer research. Special to West Hawaii Today

Paolo Piro just started riding a unicycle a year and a half ago and now has an ambitious plan that will have him circling the Big Island to raise money for children’s cancer research.

Piro started riding the one-wheel cycle in the early days of the COVID pandemic last May. Looking for a physical activity to help with healing from two decades of chronic pain, what started as a hobby turned into a passion that quickly took over his life.

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In this short time, he claims his health has completely turned around.

“A unicycle sounded like a fun way to exercise and something that would hold my attention for a while,” he said. “It very quickly became an obsession.”

In September 2020, he learned about the Great Cycle Challenge and pledged 100 miles.

“It sounded like a huge number but I did the math and thought I could do it. I ended up doing 175 miles. By the end of September, I was completely hooked on doing distance challenges,” he said.

The nonprofit Great Cycle Challenge was started in 2015 and has raised over $39 million for Kid’s Cancer Research. Team “Big Island Lap” is looking to raise at least $5,000 this year.

“I figured I’m riding anyways, I’m going to try this,” Piro said. “I’m going to make this an annual thing. My birthday is in September, so doing this is like giving myself a really good birthday present.”

Piro said he has mostly ridden around the areas he has lived in Puna and Hamakua and has never even seen South Kona or Ka‘u.

“My toughest ride so far was the ride from the top of Maunakea to about 6 miles outside of Hilo. My goal was to make it all the way to Coconut Island, but I fell 10 miles shy because of weather. I did that on my one-year cycling anniversary.”

In thinking about the ride, Piro figured going around the island seemed like the biggest challenge he could do.

“I wanted to do something big,” he mused.

Piro plans on taking 15 days to complete the 350-mile monumental trip. He will be accompanied by unicyclist Brandon Brown of Ohio, and joined on day two by Owen Farmer from California.

“We’re going to be carrying all our gear and camping along the way,” he said.

Piro said he had someone who will meet them periodically to give them water and food, but are hoping people cheering them on along the way will help replenish supplies too.

The trip starts around 8 a.m. on Sept. 10 at Kailua Pier, and if all goes well, they will return to the starting point on Sept. 25.

They will head south, tracing the coastline all the way around the island.

“If anyone living along the route would like to get involved in this amazing event by supplying, food, water, a shower, or camping space contact Paolo through Instagram Instant Messages @unitoonist,” he said.

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To learn more, follow rides, or make a one-time tax-deductible donation, visit www.greatcyclechallenge.com/Riders/PaoloPiro.

“Not only do I get to take care of myself with my health and my physical wellbeing, but I also get to help myself with my spirit and feeling good because the effort is going to support and help such a worthy cause,” said Piro.

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