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An Axeman’s Life

There are no two axemen out in the world who follow the same pattern in their lives. Some work construction, some cut diamonds, and some fish the pacific whenever they are not at a lumberjack show. I guess the only thing we, as axemen, have in common is our love for a sport that will never put us on the cover of Sports Illustrated, never make the highlights of Sports Center, and will never really make us famous in the world’s eye.                                   

I became addicted to timbersports, or logging/lumberjack sports, while attending Cal Poly State University studying for a B.S. Degree in Forestry and Natural Resource Management. I am a naturally athletic person, so after my first swing of the axe, I was hooked. I still remember the nervous, shaky feeling in my legs as I swung my first swing. Clop, the axe hit the wood, sinking to the handle. All the while, the nervous feeling turned into pure adrenaline rushing through my body, exhilarating my senses, as if reborn to a whole new world.                                   

Well, a new world indeed. Once addicted, and ever since, I have been consumed by the sport of woodchopping. Aside from making ends meet in the real world, I live an entirely different life of pushing myself to do things others cannot. Be it in the gym strength training, on the pavement and dirt building my cardiovascular system to perform at its peak, or chopping and sawing thousands of chopping blocks and wood cookies, my life as an axeman is intense. The focus and determination of this pursuit is rivaled only by other Olympic and professional athletes.                                   

Once fit and ready for the task, the mental stress of a timber show will make any competitor sweat. After driving to the competition site most of the evening before, all competitors rise early to prepare for a long day of turning the strength and focus on and off again. First things first, all the chopping blocks are sized the same diameter with an axe. Axe throw preliminaries are next. All contestants must make “the show” if there are too many contestants in any one event, which usually means axe throw, choker setting, and sometimes stock saw.                                   

At larger contests, like the Midwest Lumberjack Championships, all events have preliminaries the day before, leading up to the finals on Sunday with the top four competitors. Once the schedule for the show is set, all equipment must be checked and in proper working order. All cross cut saws need handles, axes need to be tested in the show wood, then polished and stoned, hot saws need tweaking, game plans are made between partners, chopping blocks are picked and set up for the show, and sawing wood is tested for softness. All the while, a mental game is played to calm the anticipation of excellence.                                   

A lumberjack show usually goes by in a flash for most competitors, with everyone running around, attending to last minute perfections, checking others’ scores, check — checking — and — rechecking wood, axes, saws, stance, and again, other competitors’ scores. And between all this mayhem of checking, each contestant has one ear open towards the show announcer, waiting for his or her name to be called on deck. At that moment, once that name is called, all life is slowed and reality sets in, ready or not. It is time to turn on all that strength, agility, and focus. “Go,” the announcer calls the cadence, and all that is, and ever will be, is focused into that one moment in time. It’s just you and the wood —cutting, sawing, climbing, or running. Everything you have trained for is set loose to attack in a controlled chaos. With each swing, stroke, and stride, all is silent and sane in the world. Nothing else matters; just that cut, just you and the wood… And when it is all cut and done, you stand there, thinking about what went wrong, and how you can improve, eager for the next time.                                   

After a long day of turning the strength and focus on and off again, equipment needs to be cleaned, inspected for fixing, and secured for the long trip home. This trip, be it three or twenty hours, is consumed with thoughts of improvement, or discussion with a friendly travel partner. And once the long trip has ended, the money counted to determine red or black, and the week is in full swing, all the equipment is inspected once again, fixed over long nightly hours in the shop, and readied for the next weekend of strength and focus.                                   

Tom went professional in 2003 and holds six world records. President and founder of the Oregon Axemen’s Club, Tom is also a Forest Sports Instructor at Central Oregon Community College. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, he can be reached at (541) 815-1647 or (541) 388-4800. TW

TimberWest January/February 2008
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