Balancing Work and Play with UCI’s Juggle Buddies

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by Sharmin Shanur

Every Friday evening outside of Croul Hall, UCI’s Juggle Buddies meet to do the one thing they love: juggling. For the buddies, juggling is not simply a sport for clowns, but a hobby. It’s a way to make friends and an opportunity to express themselves. Most of the members admit that juggling was not instinctive, but a coincidence — they all seemed to stumble upon it  by chance.

Alex Lu, a third-year biological sciences major, discovered juggling as he was “coming out of a chemistry lab and saw [his] friend (who is now the president of the club) juggling.” He began to wonder what his friend was doing, and before Lu knew it, he began juggling himself.

Joining Lu at a recent meetup, I watched as he carefully parted his legs, planted himself on the floor, and began to juggle three balls. It seemed as if he had been juggling his entire life. The sheer focus in his eyes and the slight grin on his lips clearly reflected that this was something he was born to do, but that was not always the case. Lu’s expertise is the result of practice — a lot of practice.

Lu’s first challenge as an amateur juggler was learning how to throw balls straight into the air, rather than leaning forward and losing control. Lu had to practice a lot and trained himself to stand face-forward against a wall so that he could use it as his guide. ‘When I’d actually started juggling, I’d keep moving forward,” noted Lu. Using the wall for reference, Lu learned how to avoid moving forward by focusing his throws to precisely shoot the balls straight up into the air without touching the wall. This eventually helped Lu become the competent juggler he is today. Once he mastered the basics, Lu learned that not only could he juggle balls, but bowling pins and yo-yos, too.

In the midst of the laughter that characterizes the Juggle Buddies’ meetings, I heard Lu  point to a tall man nearby and proclaim, “I call him the juggle enthusiast.” This title was rightfully given, as I saw that man juggling six balls at once — three per hand.

This tall, talented man was Yuki Takahashi, a fifth-year PhD student in mathematics. Takahashi, like most of his peers, discovered juggling by coincidence, after watching it on television almost a decade ago in Japan.

“[In] my time, juggling was not very popular in Japan,” said Takahashi. “I just watched it on TV and started juggling. I was a high school student at the time. That was a long time ago.”

According to Takahashi, he and his students were the pioneers of Juggle Buddies at UCI.

“My students said they were very interested in juggling, and we just came together,” reminisced Takahashi .

But, because he was a TA at the time, he simply provided a platform for his students to come together, and they essentially established the club.

As intimidatingly smart as Takahashi might seem, seeing him juggle made me realize that he is a regular guy with passions and hobbies — not simply a math genius who can calculate equations all day long.   When I asked him why he cultivated his juggling skills, his immediate answer was “[So] I can attract beautiful ladies.” I couldn’t help but laugh at this quick-witted comment. Takahashi’s cheeks immediately began to blush. He knew how funny that sounded coming from a graduating PhD student.

Yuki and Lu are just two examples that juggling is not simply for theaters or clowns. Rather, it can be a pastime for people of all walks of life — even STEM majors and math geniuses. Seeing these two men converse with their peers about their passions in sciences while they juggled balls or yo-yos reminded me that hobbies don’t always need to align with one’s career — hobbies can be coincidental or spontaneous. Lu and Yuki are just two of the many members of Juggle Buddies who are not only dispelling stereotypes associated with juggling, but also have fun while doing so.

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