When Michael Carolan received a unicycle for Christmas last year, he wasn’t sure exactly why his parents chose to buy him one but he immediately set out to learn how to ride it.
It took him two weeks to learn to mount it. Then he began riding down the driveway at his East Islip home while supporting himself on a fence that runs alongside it.
Johanna Carolan, Michael’s mother, watched her 13-year-old son’s progress with interest. But as soon as Michael had figured out the basics, he announced a loftier goal: he was going to ride the unicycle 20 miles for charity.
“He had just learned to ride,” she said. “There’s a big difference between a 20-mile ride and going up and down the driveway. I didn’t want to discourage him, but I wondered if he was biting off more than he could chew.”
Michael decided on the charity ride as a unique take on a science project assigned to the seventh-graders at East Islip Middle School. As part of their environmental unit, the students are tasked with creating and presenting a project that will benefit the environment.
Michael reached out to family and friends to sponsor each mile, and in March, he completed 20 miles on the trails of Heckscher State Park in about 2½ hours. He raised $925, which he donated to the Arbor Day Foundation.
“I liked that I was able to do something that was fun and raise a lot of money for the organization,” he said.
He said after he made his donation, he received a letter from the foundation stating that the money could be used to help preserve 22 square miles of rain forest and plant 450 trees in Florida.
Cindy Freudenberg, Michael’s teacher, said the school has been teaching this unit for years and the students always impress her.
She said Michael’s project was notable because it was a personal challenge he took on, and it resonated with the unit’s message that we each need to become personally involved with helping to protect the planet.
“He taught himself to ride and he raised $925,” she said. “Most students raise between $20 and $100.”
Johanna Carolan said though she was a little worried about her son’s idea, she was not surprised.
“It’s so typical Michael,” she said. “He’s always thinking big, thinking different, thinking outside the box. He likes to do things in his own way, and it usually works.”