2021 Lumberjack World ChampionshipsIt Did and - It Didn’t

2021 Lumberjack World Championships

Among the events that were canceled because of COVID-19 was the 2020 Lumberjack World Championships. This competition is normally held annually in mid-summer in Hayward, Wisconsin. Hayward was unusually quiet last year. With restrictions on every facet of life, this normally bustling community didn’t experience the usual influx of tourists nor lumberjack competitors in 2020.

As 2021 progressed, some restrictions eased and plans for the 61st Lumberjack World Championships resumed. The hope was that the event would bring a sense of normalcy for competitors and spectators alike. It did. And it didn’t.

2021 Lumberjack World ChampionshipsLeft: LaVoie displays the form that carried her to the top. Above: Andrea Card (l) pulls wood as Denise Ott (MN) (r) prepares to take her turn. Below: Note the technique. Nate Hodges’ head: motionless. The axe head: not so much.

The sun wasn’t always normal, for example, as it appeared red at times thanks to the smoke drifting in from Canadian wildfires and occasionally was of sufficient density to allow identification of its scent. That smoke was apparently the only known foreigner present. In past years, the field of competitors would be swelled by foreign lumberjacks and jills. With certain borders closed, the competition this year did not include the usual entrants from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the Czech Republic. Although their absence was noticed, those who were on hand attacked logs and poles with the usual fervor. The entrants included competitors from Washington, Idaho, and California. And they made their presence known.

The headliner among the group of five from western states certainly was Erin LaVoie. Since 2014, the lady from Spokane had earned the Tony Wise All-Around Women’s Championship in every even-numbered year until the cancelled 2020 event. The All-Around crown had previously been worn in uninterrupted fashion by Nancy Zalewski (WI) for years. Her reign ended when Ms. LaVoie placed it on her own head in 2014. The following year, Lindsay Daun (IL) claimed it, only to be bested by LaVoie in 2016. Zalewski took it back in 2017 — a record tenth win. Once again (in 2018), when the World Championships were held in an even-numbered year, it was LaVoie who was awarded the coveted title and trophy. True to form, LaVoie watched someone else – Martha King (PA) – take the top spot in odd-numbered 2019. And then the pattern was broken when COVID-19 prevented anyone from assuming the title in 2020; an even-numbered year which would seem to have been Erin’s turn. Could she pull it off in an odd-numbered year?

2021 Lumberjack World ChampionshipsSuperstition runs deep with some athletes, but apparently not with the Washingtonian. As in years past – even and odd – the former champion brought her A-game. Always quiet and focused, Erin LaVoie explodes at the commencement of action. While a crosscut seems to be her favored weapon of choice, LaVoie is well-versed in the operation of an axe. In the final rounds she placed 2nd in Women’s Underhand Chop, 1st in Women’s Single Buck, and 1st in Jill & Jill with partner Kate Witkowski (WI). Additionally, LaVoie captained the 2nd place relay team. Any competitor in any sport entering four events and finishing no lower than 2nd certainly deserves to be crowned the all-around champion.

The two other western ladies competing were Andrea Card (Santa Rosa, CA) and Brenda Boyko (Viola, Idaho). Card finished 6th in the overall standings with four of the five ladies ahead of her having held the all-around title in previous years. Tough sledding, indeed. Andrea did well in the underhand chop, finishing 3rd behind King and LaVoie, respectively. Nor is the lady a slouch with a crosscut as she and partner Denise Ott (MN) took 3rd, dropping out of the bottom of the log just 7/100ths of a second behind the team ahead of them. Andrea also placed 8th with fellow-Californian Nate Hodges in the Jack & Jill Crosscut competition. Boyko competed in all of the women’s chopping and sawing events, including the Jack & Jill Double Buck with husband Derek Pouchnik. That event was Brenda and Derek’s best showing but, alas, the pair from Idaho finished about two seconds out of the money.

Like his lady, Pouchnik also entered multiple events. Derek and partner Mel Lentz (WV), took top honors in Masters Double Buck — an event reserved for competitors fifty and older — posting a time of 15.85 seconds in cutting through 20 inches of eastern white pine. Derek also competed in the other 50+ event: Masters Underhand Chop. A handicap event, Pouchnik started forty seconds back. Saving his best for last, Derek turned in his best time in Saturday night’s championship round. That’s the good news. The bad news: So did everyone else. Pouchnik’s Saturday time of 1:11.87 would have won both of the preliminary rounds. As it was he finished fifth with a respectable time.

Another man with respectable times was Nate Hodges (North Fork, CA). Hodges is one of those competitors whose quiet smile is replaced by a look of intense fury when the chopping or sawing gets underway. Out of 60 male competitors at the Lumberjack World Championships, Hodges finished 5th all-around — and that puts him ahead of many formidable sawyers and axe men. To place that high, one has to compete in multiple events and consistently perform above the crowd. Hodges took 2nd in Hot Saw, only 4/100ths behind the winner. Elsewhere he posted finishes of 3rd (Springboard Chop), 6th (Underhand Chop), 8th (Single Buck, Men’s Double Buck, and Jack & Jill as aforementioned with Andrea Card), and 9th (Standing Block Chop).

All in all, the 61st Lumberjack World Championships delivered as promised. The competition was keen, and the companionship – among competitors and spectators alike – had long been desired and was thoroughly appreciated. The opportunity for jills and jacks to revisit a pre-pandemic favorite athletic lumberjack event wasn’t wasted. The 62nd edition won’t be either.

TimberWest November/December 2013
November/December 2021

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