CO-EDS WITH CHAINSAWS: The Men And Women Of Competitive Collegiate Lumberjacking

A world in which college students are encouraged to play with saws, axes, and tobacco products.

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Everyone knows about college.

image via a freshman dorm
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Hanging on the quad, hitting the library, playing Frisbee, joining the chainsaw team.

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Chainsaw competitions might not be a staple on every campus — yet — but in some places, collegiate lumberjacking has become just as fashionable as texting, going on spring break, and listening to the music sounds of Miley Biber.

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The Stihl company, which makes powerful outdoorsy equipment, has sponsored a professional “Timbersports” league since 1985. Stihl launched a college competition in 2003 — there are regionals around the country at schools like the University of Montana and Michigan State, and a national final in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Here’s national champion Ben Hansen of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point finishing off a round in the “underhand chop.”

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Hansen says his hobbies include hunting, fishing, and “playing with my chainsaw.”

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One of Hansen’s main rivals for the title this year was Northern Arizona’s David Gouivea. “This guy lives off the grid,” an event announcer noted. (The Stihl competitions are taped for airing on ESPN networks and the Outdoor Channel.) “He eats squirrels.” Gouivea confirmed that he helps manage a forest property and sometimes stays there in an unwired trailer with his dog. Doesn’t sound so bad, really.

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National competition is open to anyone but tends to be male-dominated. The Stihl Northeast regional, however — held this year at Finger Lakes Community College in upstate New York — has since 2010 attracted enough interest to have both men’s and women’s competitions. This year’s women’s champ was Jennifer Michaud of Maine’s Unity College.

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Conservation law enforcement seems like an appropriate career path. I would not mess with Jennifer Michaud in a forest.

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Michaud narrowly beat out Darcy Rose of UConn for the title.

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Rose was a natural charmer. “Always sheathe your axe with a smile” — the first rule of lumberjack show business.

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Stereotypically, smiles and good manners abounded in the women’s competition. Kelsey Hamilton of Finger Lakes Community College won the chainsaw round…

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And celebrated in what has to be the mildest possible way anyone has ever celebrated a victory in a chainsaw competition.

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Ali Maher of SUNY Cobleskill finished her round in the single buck saw with the Lumber Smooch of Love.

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The atmosphere was rowdier at a tobacco-spitting contest held concurrently to the Stihl qualifier at Michigan State. (Slightly confusing detail: the Stihl contests are held alongside intercollegiate “Foresters’ Conclave” competitions. In this case Stihl’s cameras happened to catch some Conclave-sponsored spitting — it wasn’t organized by the company.) One participant, Shelby Worel, told the taping crew: “I’m excited to try something new and hopefully not throw up.”

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The goal of the spit-off: Cover as much of a piece of paper 10 feet away from you in tobacco juice as possible. This is a really good round, for example.

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Right: spitter. Left: grossed-out mother wondering if this is really what she’s paying tuition for.

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Everyone had a good time developing new and potentially addictive/cancerous habits. Donia Moustafa of the University of Illinois, below, put it best. “I have a little bit of a head buzz,” Moustafa told the taping crew. “But it’s a good head buzz.”

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Qualifying for next year’s Stihl competitions begins in the spring. In the meantime, before you go to sleep, always make sure to check under your bed for Ben Hansen.

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CORRECTION: The locations of Stihl regionals change each year; the tobacco-spitting contest was concurrent to the Stihl event, not a part of it. An earlier version of this article suggested otherwise. (8/21/13)

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