Thursday, December 6, 2012
Allen student showcases champion unicycling skills on Nickelodean’s Figure It Out
Julia Belk has been unicycling for four years.
ALLEN What do Abraham Lincoln, dilly-dallying, and green slime have in common?
Now, ask the question so that it can only be answered with a "yes" or a "no."
When Allen resident Julia Belk received an invitation to be a contestant on a game show, the answer was "yes."
Julia, a student at Lovejoy High School and Stanford Online High School, is a world champion flatland unicycler. The uniqueness of her sport is a prized commodity on Nickelodeon's Figure it Out, which challenges young celebrity contestants to guess other youths' unusual interests.
"Figure it Out contacted the organizer of the 2011 North American Unicycling Championships in Wisconsin, asking for the male and female flatland champions," Julia said. "So the organizer contacted me and gave me Figure it Out's contact information. So I contacted Figure it Out and we arranged everything."
Figure it Out differs from its elder cousin - the mid-20th century game show, What's My Line? - in that besides replacing "mystery guests" and adults who have unusual jobs with kids who have unique talents, it adds physical clues to help members of the celebrity panel focus their questions.
Plus, there's slime.
The episode featuring Julia aired on October 24. Members of the celebrity panel - which consisted of Ana Mulvoy Ten, Matt Bennett, Mikey Reid, and Max Schneider - asked questions such as, "Did you invent something?" and "Are you a champion at something?" as they tried to guess Julia's talent one word at a time.
Cheese wheels and pennies served as circular clues, but the questions rolled a different way: "Are you Abraham Lincoln?" "Do you want your face on the penny?" And in the midst of queries, quips, and clues, one panelist inadvertently initiated a slime shower on herself and her companions by "dilly-dallying," which was the "secret slime action."
After a breakdancing demonstration and another word guessed, Julia's talent was revealed: "World champion breakdancer on one wheel."
Julia told host Jeff Sutphen, in response to his questions, how her unicycle is different from other types.
"It has a handle on the front of the seat," Julia said, "and it's a lot stronger, and the tire is big so you can bounce on it easier." The low air pressure in the tire is "to help you jump," she said, and the width of the cranks "helps you stand on it, so you have more room for your feet."
Julia won two prizes for stumping the panel for two rounds.
"One of the most exciting aspects of having the opportunity to be on the show was the time we spent with the crew on the show, as well as with three other contestants being filmed the same day," Julia's mom, Ellen Belk, said. "The prizes were a Nintendo 3DS XL and a gift certificate to Aeropostale, but the best prize was the opportunity to be on the program.
"Unicycling is an amazing sport with a close-knit international community which Julia has had the good fortune to be part of," Ellen said.
Julia came across unicycling a few years ago when she and a friend were looking for a summer project.
"That WAS the project," Julia said. "We discovered the sport after seeing a video on YouTube. So we both bought unicycles and learned to ride that summer. Eventually he stopped riding but I kept going."
Four and a half years later, Julia is a world champion.
"It took me a few days to be able to ride about 15 feet consistently, which is when I started actually being able to balance, have a little control," Julia said about that first summer. "After that I started trying to learn different skills right away. Some of my first tricks were riding one-footed, riding backwards, etc., and it just went from there. I'm still learning new tricks all the time.
"There are other types of unicycles that people use for road racing that are built for long distances, but I mostly ride 'flatland,'" Julia said. "I do like to ride at the Edge Skate Park; it is one of my favorite places to practice.
"Going to LA was a great experience for me," Julia said. "I had been to California in 2010 for the North American Unicycling Championships, but that was in the San Francisco area. LA was interesting. I enjoyed seeing where other TV shows are filmed and had the opportunity to visit a couple universities in the area, which was informative."
Besides unicycling and "editing short unicycling videos," Julia said, "I'm also very interested in math and science, which I plan to pursue in college."
Some of her top picks include: "University of Pittsburg, Georgia Tech, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]," she said. "They're all really strong in the sciences, and there are unique things about each that just sort of appealed to me.
"My parents are both engineers," Julia said. "My mom's an environmental engineer, and my dad's a physicist, so they definitely influenced me."
"Although we like to think we have excellent genes in the family, Julia's level of success as an athlete is unique," Ellen said. "When Julia was 4, she wanted to ice skate ... We went to an outdoor rink, and off she went. She was a good skater her very first time out. Her father and I continued to encourage her to ice skate, roller skate, and ride a bicycle. As far as unicycling, though, she pursued that on her own initiative."
"I like a lot of sports, a lot of physical activity," Julia said.
Will she continue with her unicycling in the future? Yes, or no?
"It's really just fun to do," Julia said. "I like doing it a lot."
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