The unique life of Rachel Feldman, newest Illinois volleyball unicyclist, libero

Internet shows, cracking jokes, falling in front of opposing fans and a new starting role on the No. 5 volleyball team in the country.

It’s all part of the life of Illinois libero Rachel Feldman, who displays relentless energy on the court and keeps the Illini loose off of it.

And to think, those don’t even qualify as Feldman’s most unique life experience. That honor would go to her attendance as a grade-schooler at a circus camp based on Cirque du Soleil. It was there Feldman learned the not-so-basic skills of walking on globes, juggling, walking the tight rope, climbing the Spanish Web and — what she might be most known for — riding a unicycle, which she still keeps in her campus apartment today.

Head coach Kevin Hambly said he won’t judge his athletes for what they do in their spare time.

“It’s different — that’s right — I wouldn’t want to judge it. At least she didn’t run away and join the circus or something,” Hambly said. “I’m jealous, I’m not going to lie, of some of the things that she can do and some of the experiences that she’s had.”

Feldman has held her own since taking over for the injured Ashley Edinger as starting libero on Nov. 6. In her debut, she had 19 digs in a win against Michigan, one short of Beth Vrdsky’s 20 for the most in a debut at the libero position in school history. She’s continued to display her talent since, but it’s her unique persona off the court that may be most intriguing.

Junior Hillary Haen said one day the team was at a meeting in the athletic offices and a unicycle was outside. After Feldman started riding it, Hambly decided to give it a try. He nearly fell off and then told his team that nobody else was allowed to ride it because he did not want anybody getting hurt. But that hasn’t stopped Feldman from time to time.

Though they were prohibited from riding the unicycle, Feldman’s teammates still fed the frenzy. According to Feldman, junior Laura DeBruler was walking on the quad one day when she found people riding unicycles. Intrigued, DeBruler told them of Feldman. The unicyclists then added Feldman as a friend on Facebook, ensuring that she now has friends to unicycle with if she ever has the urge.

The unicycle riding is all just part of Feldman’s persona, as she tries to have fun and influence her team members to have fun too.

Last weekend, during warmups at Penn State, Feldman tripped over her feet. In order to recover, she decided just to do a roll. The entire crowd thought she did it on purpose and went crazy cheering her on.

“Some people would consider me a joker, I know. Because of my dad, I have a little comedic side,” Feldman said. “So if there’s a tense situation, I try to say something funny. That way, everybody relaxes and has a good laugh. I just say something funny when the time’s right.”

In Feldman’s last two weekends at libero, Haen said she is the loudest person on the team.

“I think she brings a lot of energy. Any time, watching any team, whenever we cheer — she’s the loudest one,” Haen said. “She’s the most enthusiastic when we get a point — whenever she gets aces or something like that — she is really excited. It’s really fun playing with her.”

Feldman says that her “multi-aspected” personality helps her add a fun spirit to the team.

Not only has she taken over as libero and rides a unicycle, but she hosts a video show called “Around the Block” on FightingIllini.com. In the Internet show, she interviews different players each week and brings up recent inside jokes in order to introduce the players on a more personal level.

“What you read in the paper, it’s just stats. It’s interesting to get to know the players on a more personal level,” Feldman said.

Of all Feldman’s contributions to the team, Hambly most appreciates the balance she brings.

“She’s got a sense of humor that’s unique, and she’s very funny,” Hambly said. “She keeps things light, but she’s very serious. She’s changed the dynamic on our team. She hasn’t just filled in for Ashley, she brings a different kind of energy to the court. It’s really fun to have her on the team.”