100 Miles for Kids

Zach Warren, former Alphachimp intern, is a divinity student and circus performer with a social mission.

After his first year at Harvard, Zach and his friends have been preparing for a massive trip to Afghanistan in order to support the Afghani Mobile Mini Circus for Children. Zach has been raising money through his 100 Miles for Kids Campaign.

To raise $10,000 for the Circus, Zach will attempt to break the GUINNESS WORLD RECORD™ for the “FASTEST 100 MILES ON A UNICYCLE”! One wheel, one clock, one pair of legs, one time to beat!

The current world record for 100miles on a unicycle was set in 1987 by Takayuki Koike of Japan. His average speed was 14.85 mph, resulting in a time of 6 hours, 44 minutes, and 21.84 seconds.

Currently, there is an international competition to break the record, including an attempt made in February of 2005, by Ken Looi in New Zealand. Looi failed to break the 100-mile record but succeeded in breaking the 24-hour distance record. Looi will reattempt the record later this year, explaining that "I can't stand unfinished business."

Though the official attempt is Oct. 11, Zach is doing a pilot trial this Thursday, May 19, between 7am-2pm, on the 400m Kissena Velodrome Track, Queens, NY. The track was generously donated by the NYC Cycling Club.

“We cannot take the gift of laughter for granted. Thousands of children in Afghanistan have to relearn how to play because the line for them between playful imagination and violent reality is so fragile.

The Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children is an established "Child-Protection" NGO that helps Afghani kids relearn how to play. More than a circus, the MMCC empowers children to develop their own sense of identity and meaning through the arts."

- David Mason and Zach Warren, MMCC

The story that follows details his adventures with special needs kids in Ireland who are entertaining and delighting crowds. The real star of the show is Eogan, a great kid who plays the Devil and challenges members of the audience to wrestle.

For more detail and photos, read on!

From an email sent to Alphachimp Studio by Zach Warren:

After a string of circus adventures in the UK, Switzerland, and Italy, I'm back in Cambridge (USA) for a brief moment to collect my thoughts, and my belongings. In a few hours, I leave again for Delhi, India, to meet with some street performers, then head off to Kabul, where these bones will be living and learning the next ten weeks.

I'm feeling a bit uneasy about going just before elections, for fear that the violence will escalate, but am relieved to know that I will be in good hands with the circus and a longtime friend who's in Kabul now. I never expected to be doing anything quite like this, but I feel drawn to this work in this place.

In 2001, President George W. Bush stood amid the fallen towers of the World Trade Center and said, "They will hear from us." And he's right. The world is a connected place, and the "they's" and the "us'es" must hear from each other. In two hours, I am heading toward Afghanistan with a duffle bag full of juggling equipment, camera equipment for research on the healing effects of circus interventions, and a desire to listen, learn deeply, and share the transformative power of circus arts with children who have grown up with war, drought, poverty, and other forms of violence.

I'll arrive with aid in the form of circus donations, too. Steve Ragatz, an international circus performer and juggler in Cirque du Soleil, constructed juggling boxes, clubs, torches, and rings for me to give to the MMCC (see www.stevenragatz.com). David Ascroft of the Cirque Uplands Circus in Canada, another children's circus, sent over to Kabul $600 of circus equipment, including a custom unicycle (www.drkaboom.com). It's not enough for the nearly 50 kids in the circus, but every bit helps in a big way. I will send another email after I arrive and have settled.

But what happened to June, you may ask? How did the street performing experiment with special needs adults work out? If you're curious and have a moment, read on. I also invite you to check out a few photos.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that you are a circus performer and a divinity student. Imagine that tomorrow morning you will wake up not in your normal abode, but in a special needs community in Dingle, Ireland. Eogan, a 25-year old Irish lad with Downs Syndrome, sideburn chops, and an infectious sense of humour, taps you on the shoulder to wake you up. "Wake up or I'll arm wrestle you, I will," he quips with a thick accent. Eogan is a natural entertainer, and a character. He'll chat up nearly anyone on the street.

After raking the dust off your eyeballs, you rise, then glance out the window at cow pastures and the distant sea. It's beautiful. Rediculously green. Hobbling to the kitchen table, you meet John, a 29-year-old special needs man with a red beard, a slender frame some six feet tall, and the sort of facial expression you'd expect from someone who's just woken up. (John's not a morning person.) "Hi," he says in monotone, scraping some fresh strawberry jam onto white bread, always with intensity in his eyes. John is the philosopher in the group. Not the kind of philosopher who writes, reads heavy books, and wears black turtle necks, but the kind who makes those basic statements about life that are at once remarkably ordinary and remarkably profound. To get him talking, simply ask him about the meaning of life, and he'll give you a long soliloquoy, sometimes stuttering, sometimes changing his mind mid-sentence, but always with a sense of fervor and existential urgency.

At the breakfast table to your right sits Duncan, a dear friend from Harvard, also a talented musician and a philosopher-theologian in his own right. After college, Duncan lived with these two fellows -- John and Eogan -- for two years in a Camphill special needs community in Callan, Ireland. This week, all four of you are taking a holiday -- not as tourists, but as street performers. A rare bunch. The likes of you may never come together again in this way, but the experience is built to be memorable.

Today, and each day, you spend a few hours dancing, whistling, singing, juggling, arm wrestling, and storytelling on the street. What's your act?? The goal for this experiment is to have something performative in which everybody can participate -- the four performers, and the audience, too. After a few days of planning and more than a few rounds of Guinness, you have it: a story to tell and a series of songs to narrate along the way. More importantly, you have roles that befit each of your strengths and personalities. Duncan sings with his guitar. John plays "The Meaning of Life." Eogan plays "the Devil." And you... you're the juggler.

Juggler Man sets out on a quest to find The Meaning of Life. Behind him, Duncan sings, Eogan blows into a recorder, and John looks at the audience with his typical intensity. Along the way, Juggler Man encounters the Devil, who tries to keep him from the Meaning of Life. Eogan seizes the imaginary stage wearing a full-body red wetsuit, a costume he picked out from a second-hand store. After a series of challenges -- juggling baseball bats, tennis rackets, even flaming torches -- Eogan calls you to an arm wrestling match, one of his favorite pasttimes. Inevitably, you lose, and must call to the audience for help. "You, sir, do you want to wrestle with the Devil?"

Someone, eventually, beats Eogan, who takes it all in good fun. Later, the Devil and Meaning of Life have a stare-down, a staring contest judged by the audience, after which John demonstrates his magical prowess as the Meaning of Life, balancing two spinning plates simultaneously atop long sticks, then giving an always impromptu piece of wisdom or poem, like, "Love, love, why the love?" A finale to celebrate the ending might be juggling knives, or balancing Duncan's guitar on your chin. At least, that was our story. John and Eogan loved it, and so did Duncan and me. For John and Eogan, it was a chance to show off just a few of their skills, proving that special needs can also come with special talents, and also nurturing their natural spirit of play. As performers, each of us can be special, and in ways that bring confidence and sociability rather than a sense of isolation or aloneness.

I better finish packing and scoot out the door. Forgive me if I haven't responded to your email, but know that I do read all my emails, even if there's no time to reply. Thanks for keeping me in your heart! You're certainly in mine.