Stillwater lumberjill is on a roll
This weekend the crowds show up in Stillwater to enjoy the festivities surrounding Lumberjack Days. Though live music and fried foods will most certainly be had, the highlights of the fest are the lumberjack and lumberjill competitions. Categories including log rolling, boom running, log climbing, and chainsaw accuracy test skills such as strength, mental sharpness, and agility. City Pages took a moment to speak to impressive Stihl lumberjill Jenny Atkinson (above in orange), a Stillwater native who ranks first nationally in log rolling, and fourth in boom running.
City Pages: How did you get started in the Lumberjill competitions? What attracted you to the sport?
Jenny Atkinson: I went as a spectactor to a tournament, and I was captivated. It looked like so much fun that I knew I needed to try it.
CP: How long have you been competing?
JA: Twenty-five years! I watched my first competition at 9, it was the end of the season, and I started lessons the very next summer. As a kid I was naturally athletic. The cool thing about log rolling is that there is a rapid rate of improvement. Fast little steps—ideally you're staying right on tops of the log. When you move your feet quick, the log moves. I love teaching people, especially when they think they can't do it. By the end they're like, "Wow, I did it! I can do this!" Even if it's just a couple steps it's amazing to see that improvement.
CP: Have you found the sport has changed or grown since you first started? Does it seem to be receiving more national attention from sports enthusiasts as well as networks like ESPN?
JA: It has changed and grown. The sport was huge 50 years ago—they were able to draw gigantic crowds then. I was just reading an article about how they had 36,000 people watching some competitions at the turn of the century. As a modern sport, the exposure on ESPN has been huge. A lot of people are fascinated by it. It's a unique and different sport. I think a lot of the draw is from people looking for different types of sports. Less mainstream sports are captivating peoples' attention.
CP: I see that you're a 3rd grade teacher. Are competitions something that mainly happen in the summer? What do you do to train in the off-season?
JA:Yeah—most of my competing is during the summer. Almost every competitor has another profession or is in college. For training, during the summer months, I spend at least 3 hours a day training. Two, to two-and-a-half on boom running and log rolling. Then another hour or so mountain biking, weight lifting, hiking, or kayaking. During the off season I obviously don't have as much time, but I do a lot more weight training during the winter months.
CP: So, do you compete in a specific category?
JA: I specialize in log running and boom running. There are multiple events—chopping events, throwing, speed climbing, etc. I attend usually about 8 competitions a year.
CP: What sort of skills help a beginner? Or help people to excel in competition?
JA: Naturally good balance helps. Determination. It's a great sport, anyone can try it at any age. I mean, kids as young as 4 or 5 take lessons and compete, all the way to 70s years old. It's a sport that truly has longevity.
CP: Do women and men compete separately? What are people's reactions when you tell them that you are a lumberjill?
JA: Most of the time we compete separately. We practice together a lot though, which is great. There are some competitions on the west coast and Canada that have men and women competing together.
CP: Have you found it to be a female-friendly sport?
JA: Oh definitely! I would encourage every girl or woman to try it. It's addicting! You make it to five steps and wonder if you can make ten. It's one of those sports that you keep improving at.
CP: How do people react when they find out you're a lumberjill competitor?
JA: Typically, most people know about the sport now, which I love. I have been competing since 1991, and at that time, a lot of people hadn't heard of it. People know about the sport now. They think it's cool. They're surprised. Like say stuff like, "Wow! You're small and fit." They have this notion that you need to be this big giant. You can't be big in boom running. The women that do it are phenomenal atheletes.
CP: These competitions are national, correct? Do you get to travel to a lot of cool places to compete?
JA: We're trying to grow the sport internationally. It's big in the U.S. and Canada. We're trying to go global. We're having problems exporting the cedar—it has to be Western Red Cedar, those are the kind that are boyant enough. So the export has been the issue. We're trying to get a company that can make a synthetic log that we can use. They want it to be an Olympic sport in 2020. But it hasn't started yet because of the export problem. That's the snafu keeping us from going global. Interesting fact though—a log lasts 20 years.
CP: Do you ever use a chainsaw?
JA: I love chainsawing! I use them all the time. There's not as many tournaments for women with chainsawing. Or mixing the log rolling and boom running tournaments with the chainsawing competitions though.
See Jenny and other lumberjills and jacks compete at the Lumberjack Days in her hometown of Stillwater on Friday and Saturday. For a complete schedule of events visit www.lumberjackdays.com or call 651.430.2306. Events mostly take place at Lowell Park, Water St., Stillwater. The festival runs through Sunday.