Tracey goes for a spin

GYMNASTS from Suffolk are today training people from all over the world to work 'rhoenrads', which look like giant hamster wheels. The Torwood Wheelers is the only club of its type in the UK - after its founder brought a wheel from abroad, strapped to the roof of his car.

By Tracey Sparling

GYMNASTS from Suffolk are today training people from all over the world to work 'rhoenrads', which look like giant hamster wheels. The Torwood Wheelers is the only club of its type in the UK - after its founder brought a wheel from abroad, strapped to the roof of his car. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING goes for a spin.

SUSPENDED upside down, hanging on for dear life, I wonder why I get myself in to such escapades.

The blood rushes to my head, as the expert John Colles shouts instructions like 'don't tip your head back', and 'keep your arms straight'.


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Ever since Wolf and Jet pounded the Gladiators' arena in their plastic spheres, I've wanted to try it - and in the absence of any trip to New Zealand to go 'zorbing', this weird wheel seemed the next best thing.

But now, throwing my weight around doesn't seem such a good idea. The slightest lean to the left or the right sends this oversized hamster wheel whirling… and I don't know how to stop.

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It's surprising how much ground you can cover inside a two-metre wheel, in just a few seconds.

Out of control, I rely on John to seize the rims to rescue me.

He suggests turning my body to face the rims, which only makes the ground appear in front of my eyes all too fast, and I go heels-over-head. The scariest feeling is not trusting the straps which your feet are dangling from, when your head is just inches from the floor. A few long seconds pass - which means I get a quick rollercoaster rush of adrenaline - before my feet reconnect with the board.

Once the initial fear is conquered, there seems to be no end to the tricks, including spirals, in pairs, and moves to music, which the Torwood Wheelers love to teach.

Members of the Suffolk club struggle to join the competitive side of this sport, because there is nobody to compete against in the UK, and rivals abroad are far advanced. They are off to a training camp in Illinois in America, in July.

In the meantime, Friday nights at Rendlesham Sports Centre see people of all abilities have a go, and enthusiastic beginners come from as far afield as London to be trained.

When I visited, a coach full of children were learning rhoenrads, as part of their circus skills group, having left Warwickshire at 6.30am to visit the rural Suffolk village. The contact came from a girl the Wheelers met in Finland, at an international event two years ago.

John first saw the sport many years ago, and when the older boys in his gymnastics club wanted a new challenge nine years ago, he remembered the wheels and scoured the globe to find some.

He said: “We brought one back from Germany on the roof of our car! We now have nine wheels of various sizes. I love it, if I have to go on holiday for two weeks I really miss it!”

He added: “It helps if you have some gymnastic background, because you have that body awareness and poise already. It can be disorientating to begin with, quite a few people say they think they'd be sick but you can take it slowly and we've never had anyone be ill yet!”

After eight-year-olds Zaylie Ormsby and Victoria Green from Warwickshire tried the wheels for the first time, Victoria said: “We went round on it, like we were on the London Eye.”

Zaylie said: “We tried it in pairs and my partner let go! It sometimes hurts and you have to remember to move your fingers so you don't run over them. It's really fun.”

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Torwood Wheelers is open to anyone over the age of 16, and runs on Fridays 7:30pm to 9pm at Rendlesham Sport Centre. Call 01394 460876 for more information.

Rhoenrads are large wheels which you stand inside, and can roll or spin like a coin.

The sport is exhilarating, fun, gymnastic and balletic, and trains all the muscles in your body.

Besides Japan, Israel, England, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland, German gymnasts are still the forerunners of the sport.

Weblink: www.torwell.plus.com/torwood

1920s:

The idea was dreamed up by German Otto Feick when he sat in a prison cell, having been jailed by a French military court for spying. He remembered connecting two iron hoops in his father's workshop, as a boy, when he rolled downhill inside this wheel and arrived with bruises all over his body.

He later opened a metalwork workshop, where the wheel which was patented in 1925.

In 1927 his show group of gymnasts presented the "Rhönrad" in London, then in Europe. In 1929 the wheel became a sensation in America, and the first German gymnastic wheel games were held.

1930s:

For the tenth anniversary of the wheel, the group performed a show in the winter garden in Berlin. 120 gymnasts used it, at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games 1936 in Munich.

1940s/50s/60s:

When Germany came back to life after the war, some old gym-wheel friends repaired their broken wheels to ressurect the sport. The wheel was admitted to the German Gymnastic Association with the first German Championships in 1960. Feick died in 1959, and later for the 50th anniversary of the "Rhönrad", a monument was built in his honour.

1980s/90s:

The gym wheel experienced a boom, and the show group of the German gymnastic association caused a sensation with very modern choreographies. The wheel found its way to Israel and Japan.

1990 saw the first European-Cup, and 1994 brought the first world championships.

Weblink: www.rhoenrad.net/pages/com/history

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