Words || Max Ghent
Daily student life at Macquarie University is not too dissimilar to many other Sydney campuses with perhaps one eccentric exception. The difference being, MQ students are used to the sight of a lanky 21 year old flying past on his unicycle doing 23km an hour. Something the sleep deprived students struggled to comprehend when first seeing is now an all too familiar sight.
“When I unicycle, I’m in my zone. When I ride I’m constantly learning and pushing myself. It makes me happy bringing a smile to people’s faces as I roll around… I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of riding the unicycle.”
Not all hobbies require as much trial and error as unicycling and for Grant Perry, learning to ride has proved a testament to his perseverance and determination. But as anyone who’s had the pleasure of getting to know Grant like myself quickly discovers, remaining happy in a life full of ups and downs has always been a balancing act for him.
If you were to see Grant walk into class on a rainy day, his clothes dripping wet, whole body shivering, unicycle clutched to his side – you couldn’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him. The next logical response would be to pray the guy doesn’t sit next to you.
But if you found out he had carried that unicycle through the neck deep water of a flooding Lane Cove river a mere 25 minutes earlier, you might actually tell the dude to pull up a chair.
What many students don’t realise is that Grant isn’t just a showman on Wally’s Walk. He actually rides his unicycle a total of 13.2km every day, to and from university, his commute starting in the suburb of Turramurra 6.6km away.
It all kicks off each morning with a 2km unicycle down Kissing Point Road, which as regular commuters would know is as treacherously steep as it is busy. At the end of Kissing Point, he reaches the tip of the bushland connecting Turramurra to Macquarie Park. At this point, nothing but a steep bushland canyon divides him and Macquarie’s campus.
After Grant rides another 3km down the rocky bush trails of this canyon, he faces the banks of the river crossing before ascending up the other side to Macquarie park. “The crossing of Lane Cove River is pretty interesting when it’s wet, when it rains a bit. I’ve swam to uni, I’ve waded through the Lane Cove River and I get pretty wet. But if I need to get to uni that’s how I do it.”
In Grant’s eyes, he has no other choice but to press on through the flooding river. The Lane Cove river being past the point of no return for his commute – the nearest bus stop being an almost 5km uphill ride. If he went back he would definitely miss his class.
But the obvious question sticks out; why the fuck are you doing this? Unicycling for Grant first begun as a hobby, but is fast becoming something much bigger. Grant has begun planning an across-the-country unicycle trip at the end of his degree to raise money for charity.
“Why not ride across Australia? Perth! Why not?” Grant tells me with a shrug of his shoulders. “This is something I’ve been working towards for a while. Maybe next year when I graduate. Although the sound of being on my own for a year or so does sound pretty cool, I’m not sure If I can actually do it. I want to give myself a goal, something I can work towards and hopefully get somewhere.”
This idea hasn’t come out of nowhere for Grant, having recently walked a 25 hour, 100km hike, raising money for Oxfam with his local Scout Rovers group. He’s also a frequent shaver for World Greatest Shave, a contributor to Darwin Doctors as well as an advocator of the Royal Firefighting Service. With so many charitable contributions to his name, Grant is setting his sights on a massive undertaking, aiming to cross the nation without the help of a support crew.
Grant tells me his love for unicycling started small. It was mid-2015 when his mother walked into the living room where he was watching TV, in the desperate last-ditch attempt of snapping him out of being a “lazy high school student” she held up a rusted unicycle salvaged from the side of the road. She then placed it on the ground in front of Grant and walked away without saying a word, leaving the aged unicycle in between Grant and the television set. With Grant being a keen camper, hiker, bike rider and all-round adventurer the hope was that a simple, albeit slightly shitty, unicycle might snap him out of this current spell of laziness.
“The unicycle was beat up, rusted and generally shit” Grant tells me. After a quick spruce-up and a pumping of the wheel he begun to learn to ride it and soon the bruises and scrapes from learning to ride were piling up. But Grant pressed on, and six weeks later he conquered the one wheeled beast.
But his upbringing wasn’t always just the scout camps and thrill-seeking adventures Grant speaks so fondly of, with his mother describing his childhood as “a rough ride to adulthood.” Even Grant himself describes the last six months of his high school as “some of the worst of his life.”
When Grant was completing his High School Certificate in 2016, his father unexpectedly passed away due to a heart condition. Grant’s friendship with his father is something he always held dearly, describing his bond with him as “something I miss every day and something I wished I could have had a few more years of.”
Despite the unimaginable loss midway through what can be one of the most stressful years of many people’s lives, Grant came to school the very next day and was grateful for the comfort of some of his closest friends, ones he maintains close contact with to this day.
Grant, as always it seems, pressed on, achieving high marks and gaining acceptance into a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Electronics. His resilience during this tough time was recognised by the peers and teachers who supported him, awarding him The Spirit Award at his year 12 graduation – an accolade reserved for students who show resilience and great spirit in the face of adversity. And through all of this, Grant never put down the unicycle.
Grant continued to progress his unicycle skills into his first year of university. Quickly catapulting it from a simple hobby into his main mode of transport after the breakdown of his trusty bicycle.
“After that, I went through a two-week period of catching public transport, and it was shit. Until one day I woke up and I had a practical that I had to get to on time. It was late. If I catch the train, I’m not going to make it to Uni, If I catch the bus I’m not going to make it to uni. I looked around and thought; no bike, but I have a unicycle! I had never actually ridden my unicycle that kind of distance before. I was kind of addicted from then on.”
Grant’s obsession with his unicycle means he refuses to chain it up at the many bike stations provided by Macquarie University, instead choosing to ride his unicycle up and down Wally’s Walk daily. Because of this, Grant has simply become known amongst students as “The Unicycle Guy”.
His main fans have come forward in unofficial Facebook groups such as MQU Love Letters, MQU Love Rants and Macquarie University Memes, turning Grant and his beloved unicycle into mostly wholesome and supportive memes. The pages, that post anonymous submissions sent to them via Messenger, feature Grant more and more each week and this growing fanbase is something The Unicycle Guy himself hopes to lean on in his upcoming cross-country trip.
As Grant and myself scroll through the pages we discover one post that reads: “To the guy that rides his unicycle on campus you always make my day X”. Grant blushes, laughing nervously.
We find another that simply states: “Unicycle man we love you XO” and Grant pauses for a moment, the only words he can think of in response is “I love you too!”
But the post that managed to connect with Grant the most was one posted during a period in which he was forced to take over a week off from riding the unicycle, sick at home with the flu. The post asks: “Whatever happened to the guy who’d ride his unicycle almost every day on Wally’s?”
After it quickly garnered 110 likes in under an hour, Grant admits to it freaking him out a bit. “You know people notice you when you are there, but when someone realises you’re not, it means something else. I don’t think of myself as being someone people look out for but apparently I am. It’s really nice!”.
Grant’s ongoing support from other students hadn’t been something he expected when setting out on his daily commute. But with plans for a charity ride quickly gaining speed, he has begun embracing them fully trying his best to reply to every single one.
For someone who now wholeheartedly embraces his identity as The Unicycle Guy it’s surprising to hear that Grant was initially insecure about riding his unicycle around university, fearing judgement from his peers, or worse – injuring someone.
This latter thought in particular is one that Grant continually struggles with after accidently cutting too close to people on multiple occasions. “I kick myself for that, one of the main thoughts I have when I do what I do is about the effect I have on people. I can’t injure anyone or make them feel unsafe at uni. If I do that, I’ve got to stop. I feel awful that people have had that thought and I have apologised to those people. It’s always going to be my fault if I injure someone. If I did that, it would really make me think about whether it’s worth doing after injuring someone.”
So what’s next for Grant? Well his first steps to making his cross-country dream a reality came with his latest investment, buying a neon green unicycle with a massive 42-inch wheel, the biggest you can buy for a unicycle without needing a ladder to mount it. The unicycle also includes a break and comes with a hefty 1000-dollar price tag, a fact that Grant can’t help but nervously laugh at when saying out loud (possibly for the first time). He has aptly named this new unicycle ‘The Hulk’ and plans to ride his “big, green, mean machine” across this big brown land, when he sets off at the end of next year.
There’s never been a better time to jump on the Grant Perry bandwagon as The Unicycle Guy gathers support and has a crack at becoming the youngest man to ever cross Australia on a unicycle. Sure some might say it’s an odd accomplishment but even after just 10 minutes with the man, his sheer investment and dedication to it has me convinced… Whilst many of us aspire to not let life’s obstacles get in our way, Grant is out there every day doing just that, with a smile on his face. If there is one thing I learnt from my time with Grant is that come hell or literal highwater, press on.