THE double lives of lumberjacks

When he’s not chopping through a log with sheer brute force or using a chainsaw to tear through wood at an alarming rate of speed, Arden Cogar Jr. makes a living as an attorney.

When she’s not winning world titles as a log roller or boom runner, Jenny Atkinson teaches third grade back home in Minnesota.

Atkinson and Cogar will be among t h e wo rl d ’s t o p c o l l e ge a n d professional sawing, chopping, climbing and boom-running athletes who will descend on Columbus this weekend for the Aflac Outdoor Games, which will be held at South Commons today through Sunday.

Whatever preconceived notions one might have about what competitors in “lumberjack sports” might look like or where they might be from, Cogar and Atkinson prove that they come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.

Quite often, however, the competitors’ family ties to the events run deep.

“What I think has happened is that when most kids reach their late teens, they realize, ‘Well I can’t play football, I can’t play soccer anymore, but I’m an athlete so what am I going to do? My mom or dad already competes in this sport or is still competing in this sport, so let’s try it,’ ” said Cogar, a third-generation lumberjack who picked up the sport while in college at West Virginia. “And so what we have is a bunch of young athletes that get into the sport and fall in love with it like I have.”

While a family connection is the norm among timbersports competitors, it’s by no m e a n s a re q u i re m e n t . Atkinson was the first in her family to compete in log rolling and boom running, an event where two competitors race across six logs lining a pool of water, then turn around and race back while trying to keep their balance and avoid falling in.

She first became interested in the events after attending a competition as a 10-year-old.

“I went as a spectator to an event and was absolutely intrigued by it and was very curious to try it because it looked like so much fun,” Atkinson said.

Sure enough, she soon was hooked once she tried it. Now she ranks among the most successful competitors in the world in the timbersports events — and she hopes to pad her already-lengthy resume this weekend in Columbus.

Like most of his fellow lumberjacks who will compete in six cutting disciplines at South Commons, Cogar hails from a long line of timber spor t s competitors. However, his profession is not the only part of his life that seems to defy the stereotypes that might exist over lumberjacking.

Cogar admits in his competitor’s bio that he’s been asked, “Are you really a lawyer?” at least a million times.

This weekend’s events comprise the second round and finals of the Stihl Timbersports Series, serving as the precursor to the world championships, which will be held in September in Ireland.

They will provide an upclose look at unique athletic events that most Columbus residents have previously been able to see only on television, as timbersports are more prevalent in the northern regions of the U.S., but are largely nonexistent in the South. ESPN’s coverage of the Stihl series often piques viewers’ interest, Atkinson said, and they’re often happy for the opportunity to see them in-person.

“The cool part about it is a lot of people have picked up an axe before and chopped some firewood or something,” Atkinson said. “But to see somebody driving that axe 6 inches in one blow, it’s kinda like ‘Wow!’ There’s definitely a wow factor there.”

Cogar, who does a significant amount of public speaking on behalf of timbersports, said some of the attraction is lumberjacking’s role in American history. He believes timbersports events serve as a tribute to lumberjacking’s role in the development of the nation.

“When I speak with people, what I always tell them is that if you can trace your lineage back four or five generations and there were trees in the areas where your ancestors grew up, odds are at some point in time one of them would have had an axe or a crosscut saw in their hand, either logging or clearing the fields and the land to make way for the American infrastructure,” Cogar said. “Lumberjack timbersports is a celebration of not only the logging heritage, but also the evolution of America.”