SCARBOROUGH — As Gym Dandies performances go, Jon Cahill said, the inaugural parade in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Jan. 21, was the biggest and best.
“It was pretty much perfect from start to end,” Cahill, the group’s director, said about the ride his 41 unicyclists took along Pennsylvania Avenue to help celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
For 30 years, the Gym Dandies have juggled while riding unicycles at parades and events throughout the country, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and several July 4 parades in the nation’s capital.
On Monday, they rode from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, where President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, their families, friends and other dignitaries watched from a reviewing stand.
“I told them to go through like kids, enjoy it, and wave at the president,” Cahill said.
And that’s just what they did.
Among the riders was 13-year-old Thomas Vachon, a four-year veteran of the group.
“It was an itchy ride, we were wearing a lot of layers,” Vachon said.
Vachon’s father, Peter Vachon, watched the parade about 100 feet from the reviewing stand.
“It was fun to be in the crowd, you could see the energy,” he said.
Inauguration Day began with a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call for the riders, who stayed in a hotel north of Baltimore, Md., on Sunday night, Cahill said.
They arrived at The Pentagon in Virginia at about 8 a.m., where they waited another 90 minutes before entering security checkpoints. They unloaded their bus, which was driven away for a search, and the riders and their gear were searched before the bus was reloaded and allowed to leave for Washington.
Herded into a tent near the Washington Monument, Cahill said the group was well-fed, but idle.
“It was a long day with a lot of waiting,” he said.
While waiting to join the parade, Thomas Vachon said the group found ways to make new friends.
“We showed people how to juggle oranges,” he said.
The weather was relatively warm, in the 40s during the day, but the start of the parade was delayed.
In its early stages, the parade route was wide enough for the Gym Dandies to fully show their skills, Cahill said. Among the group were two riders on 6-foot-tall unicycles who juggled as they rode, and three riders on 36-inch unicycles who zipped in and out of the formations.
“We could really do our stuff there,” Cahill said.
The lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue narrowed as riders approached stands on both sides of the street.
“It was a smooth ride, but it got hard to unicycle,” Thomas Vachon said.
Cahill said the riders were part of the U.S. Navy division in the parade, putting them in about the middle of the pack of marchers and bands. (Inaugural parades are divided into five segments for the branches of the armed forces.)
“They were almost stopped at one point,” Cahill said, noting the riders were forced to ride back and forth to maintain balance as the pace slowed.
He said he is certain the Gym Dandies were the first group of unicyclists to ride in an inaugural parade, and Cahill said the achievement is a group milestone.
“This was our biggest and most important event,” he said. “The kids made history and they know it.”
It was about 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, when the Scarborough-based Gym Dandies rolled past the reviewing stand during the inaugural parade, waving to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.