Farewell, Red Panda

(Out sick today. Posting will be light)


In the world of great athletes, Krystal Niu probably doesn’t ring a bell. Unless you’re an NBA fan, perhaps even Red Panda doesn’t register.

But which of the world’s great athletes that you do know can ride a unicycle with one foot, while using the other foot to toss bowls on top of your head?

Here she is at Williams Arena in 2011.

You can’t fake that kind of greatness.

Sadly, we’ll never see it again.

She missed last season because of injuries and now it’s reported she has retired.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines profiled her career a few years ago:

Krystal began training at age 7. Her father taught her to balance a bowl atop her head, to hold another on her foot, to ride a series of increasingly tall unicycles, to do it all at once. Krystal fell. A lot. Dad was there to catch her. She was lucky. She saw other children break bones. By age 9, she was enrolled in a special, government-funded boarding school for traditional Chinese arts, practicing six days a week, seven hours a day. The work was hard. Boring. She started with 50 classmates. She graduated with 15.

By age 11, Krystal was performing throughout China. Five years later, she was invited to join the prestigious Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. “It’s like the NBA of acrobats,” she says. “That’s when I started traveling around the world.” Krystal went to Australia, Europe and South Africa. She trained by day, performed at night, went out and partied afterward. The troupe was tight. Life was good, but Krystal wanted more. In 1990, she turned down a job offer in Japan and moved to the United States. Arriving just before Christmas, she knew no one. Barely spoke English. Had exactly one skill.

Still, she believed that anyone could do anything.

“I was thinking to take a chance,” she says. “I didn’t know what would happen. People thought I was brave. I didn’t see it that way. I was young.”