When Nathan Stoltzfus graduated from Fayette High School in northwest Ohio, his parents gave him a unicycle for a present.

They weren't hoping that he'd injure himself and spare them the cost of a college education; they knew how dedicated their son was to unicycles.

Today, Stoltzfus, 29, lives in Northland and works as an ecological engineer for a small consulting firm in Clintonville. He is the proud owner of two unicycles, the graduation gift and a 29-inch model equipped for the tricky and taxing task of tackling mountains.

"That's when it gets really fun," Stoltzfus said, "when you add in the element of obstacles and you ride through woods. Getting off trails is a super workout."

Stoltzfus grew up on a farm outside Archbold in Fulton County.

When he was 12, he and his father were at a yard sale. A weathered 24-inch unicycle was among the items available. He convinced his father to buy the unicycle for him.

Stoltzfus said he figured the balancing act he had perfected with a child's wheelchair he found in a barn would translate into riding the one-wheeled contraption.

"Not at all," he said. "Completely different. I had to start from scratch."

Stoltzfus spent the rest of that summer practicing in the yard.

"Eventually, I could go in a straight line," he said.

Soon, he became an enthusiast and took long, solo rides.

"Quickly it became clear that I was going more than the vehicle was made for," Stoltzfus said. "I didn't meet anyone else who unicycled for a long, long time. I'm trying to remember if I'd ever seen anyone unicycle."

After graduating from high school in 2008, Stoltzfus and his graduation gift moved to the small town of Irwin in Union County, where he enrolled in Rosedale Bible College. The year he spent there was intended to give him "a better handle on my faith, something that's still important to me."

In 2010, after returning from a mission trip to South Korea, where he taught English to children in a rural area and where he built a unicycle from scrap bicycle parts, Stoltzfus came back to the United States and enrolled at Ohio State University, where he studied agricultural engineering.

Stoltzfus was convinced he was central Ohio's lone unicycle aficionado until he saw a local television segment on Tom Schneider of Clintonville.

"Basically, he saw my video that Dom Tiberi from 10TV did and reached out to me," Schneider said.

"That was pretty neat," Stoltzfus said. "I didn't know anyone else in central Ohio who rode."

"It was totally amazing," Schneider. "Out of a thousand mountain bicyclists, you might have one mountain unicyclist, so it's quite rare. "He will do things that will make you think, 'Did I just see that?' "

"It's a lot of fun to ride with others," said Stoltzfus, who mostly had ridden solo until meeting Schneider.

For his part, Schneider said, he hopes to recruit others to give the unicycle a try.

"That's why I haven't shied from the cameras and I've reach out to people ...," he said. "It's not because I'm a rock star. It's because I'm tried of riding by myself."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1