Team sports didn't appeal to Tom Schneider when he was growing up in Zanesville.

"I've always been kind of a quirky kid," he said.

When he was 10, Schneider said, his father made him a pair of stilts, which he promptly destroyed. The same fate awaited a second set, but something about the challenge of mastering stilts lit a spark in Schneider.

That turned into a flame one night when he watched a movie that featured paratroopers in World War II.

Schneider joined the U.S. Army at 18 and went on to become a jumpmaster, instructing airborne troops in skydiving.

So what is the 55-year-old Clintonville resident doing on a unicycle? What led him to ride one for 50 miles July 8 to send a Make-a-Wish Foundation child on a shopping spree? How come he's going to ride one in Pelotonia next month?

In April 2016, Schneider said, he suffered sprains of both wrists during a hard fall at the end of a parachute jump. In an attempt to keep active while his injuries healed, Schneider said, he bought a unicycle at a garage sale for $5.

"To my utter amazement, I was riding it in an hour," he recalled. "It wasn't pretty, but I was riding it."

The bug had bitten him. In his desire for a better unicycle, Schneider went to the Bike Source store in south Clintonville, where a salesman told him of the various models, including ones for riding off-road.

In August, his wife, Brenda Lloyd, gave him a mountain unicycle he could take on trails.

The path from there to the 50-mile Make-a-Wish Foundation ride was paved with Facebook postings regarding the granddaughter of a friend of the Schneiders. The little girl underwent two liver transplants in two weeks and then got to be a princess at Disneyland courtesy of Make-a-Wish, which provides special experiences to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Schneider called the local office of Make-a-Wish.

"I said, 'Listen, this is going to be odd, but here's what I want to do,' " he recalled.

"I thought, 'Wow, that's really different,' " said Diane Jones, a development officer with the central Ohio office of Make-a-Wish. "From what I understand, it's only been done once before, in California."

Schneider, a painting foreman at Easton Town Center, was matched with a 17-year-old boy who has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, whose wish was to go on a shopping spree.

To prepare for the 50-mile ride, Schneider said, he had to triple his calorie intake and ride 20 miles a day on his unicycle.

On July 8, Schneider was joined on the ride by unicycle enthusiasts Nathan Stoltzfus of Columbus and Debbie Butterini of Cincinnati.

"Tom was amazing," Jones said. "He was really exhausted when he finished. I was really impressed."

"It was just an amazing experience," Schneider said. "I knew there was going to be a lot of pain and discomfort on my part."

His Make-a-Wish match and members of the boy's family were on hand to watch the unicyclists in action.

"He was very, very excited," Jones said. "He shook Tom's hand. They got on very well."

"It was a real emotional moment," Schneider said. "That was a tear-jerker for sure."

Schneider, who now owns eight unicycles, had to have the one he will ride in Pelotonia in memory of his father approved for safety by event officials.

"I would like to grow the unicycling community, as far as off-road and long distance," he said. "It's a great way to meet people. It's better than a puppy."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1