Local forest sports athletes head to national competition

On an off-road country road in rural southern Erie County, you might expect to find people engaged in wood-related activities, such as firewood making, logging or sawing logs into dimensional boards on a portable sawmill. Last Thursday, East Aurora Advertiser photographer Marty Wangelin and I found a different kind of wood-related activity when we hiked the East Aurora 20 miles.

Local lumberjack Mark Bouquin, Andrew O’Connell and Alex Miller (left to right) will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the 2022 Stihl Timbersports USA Championship later this month.

We had been invited to a training session where two lumberjacks and a lumberjack were honing their skills for an upcoming competition. These were no ordinary lumberjacks. East Aurora High School 2016 graduate Andrew O’Connell, Colden native Mark Bouquin Springville Class of 2008, and Attica 2010 alumnus Alexandria Miller are all highly regarded professional lumberjacks in a competition circuit sponsored by Stihl. On July 22, the three will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas for the 2022 Stihl Timbersports USA Championship. Each has a good chance of winning. A victory in Little Rock would send them to the 2022 World Championship on October 29 in Sweden.

At 25, O’Connell is ranked fourth in the nation in the Rookie Division of the Stihl Timbersports Tour. Bouquin, 32, is ranked 12th in the Pro Division and Miller is well regarded in the Women’s Division, where she earned an eighth-place finish at the 2021 Nationals.

“She’s going to take it all this year,” promised a confident Bouquin. He’s 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, so you don’t argue with him.

If Bouquin’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he won the 2016 American Grit contest on cable TV, making him Western New York’s first winner of a reality TV show. on a broadcast network. In order to earn his victory and a substantial cash prize, Bouquin outlasted 14 other contestants – including a former NFL player, former Olympian, wrestler, bodybuilder, triathlete and Roller Derby member – in a reality. military style. show that had elements of Survivor and American Ninja Warrior.

Mark Bouquin is one of the top deer saw competitors in the country. Bouquin, 32, sits 12th in the Pro Division.

Another Western New Yorker, Cole Schlenker of Holland High School and former Blue Devil football player, trains normally with his colleagues. He couldn’t take part in training last Thursday, so we couldn’t see him in action. But Schlenker is a top-notch rookie with an eighth-place finish at last year’s nationals.

Former Blue Devils coach Tim Wade recalled: “He was the first guy to show up in the weight room, one of my favorite players of all time. It’s perfect for him. He will be fine.

Lumberjacks and lumberjacks regularly congregate at Bouquin’s barn where he has installed equipment that approximates what competitors see at a competition. The first action we saw was Miller practicing the stock saw event. With her Stihl chainsaw running, she held a countdown to Bouquin, as he barked, “Competitor ready, three, two, one, go!” Grabbing his saw, Miller sliced ​​through a 16-inch-diameter pine log, first from top to bottom, then from bottom to top, creating two thin discs, each no more than an inch thick, while carefully guarding its straight cuts and in the prescribed widths. .

Next, Bouquin demonstrated the single buck, where he used a six-foot-long, 15-pound buck saw equipped with a menacing 90 teeth to saw through a 16-inch-diameter log in just seconds. The scariest moment of our visit was watching Alex Miller in the sneaky chop event. She prepared a log 12 inches in diameter and 24 inches long by cutting a flat spot at each end for her feet. With the log in a cradle a foot off the ground, Miller waited for Bouquin’s command before brandishing his six-pound ax and cutting between his feet first on one side, then the other until that the log is in two pieces, while coming within inches of his feet. She was fast; I’ll still be there, after a visit to the ER. She wears thin socks resembling chain mail, but still.

Before leaving, O’Connell also showed us his favorite event: the springboard. When Bouquin gave the go-ahead, O’Connell first cut a notch with his ax about halfway up an eight-foot vertical spar with a 12-inch-diameter section of log attached to its top. . He then inserted a five-foot board with a metal clip on the end, called a springboard, into its notch, and jumped on it, swinging his ax at the log and slashing it in half in seconds. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, in the Pro Division, Bouquin will have to use two springboards to reach the log on a 12-foot spar.

In sanctioned competitions like the Nationals in Little Rock, Miller will compete in four timed events: log saw, single buck, undercut and standing block, in which she will cut a standing log with her axe.

Rookies compete in five events: Series Saw, Single Buck, Sneaky Chop, Standing Block, and Springboard.

The pros add a sixth event that really separates the champions from the contenders. Called the “hot saw”, it requires sawyers to lift a specially built 70-pound, 60-horsepower saw to cut three slabs of a specified thickness as quickly as possible from a horizontally positioned 18-inch-diameter log. .

Andrew, Alex and Mark are professionals; they compete for prize money, but, as you can imagine, even a champion can’t win enough to live on. Miller, a SUNY environmental science and forestry graduate, works as a project manager for Davey Resource Group. She is a board member of the New York State Lumberjack Association and became an event organizer when she hosted the Lumberjack Lake Effect Classic at Buffalo Riverworks in September 2021. Bouquin, a graduate of Paul Smith College, works as a consultant in software implementation. He also made chainsaw art and worked trees. O’Connell, a SUNY Morrisville alumnus, is an equipment operator for MPG, a West Falls-based construction company. All three discovered the sport in college and immediately developed a passion for it. They participated in smaller competitions and lumberjack shows, where, says O’Connell, “I can be both a lumberjack and an artist. I’m having a good time.”

Follow their progress in Little Rock on data.stihl-timbersports.com/Results.

Martin E. Berry