Women have made the cut as lumberjills
Share with others:
SCRANTON -- A lot of 9-year-old girls take jump ropes, bikes and sidewalk chalk with them when they play outside. LaVonne Mikloiche had an ax.
Now 39, the wife and mother from Vandling in Lackawanna County is part of a growing number of women who participate in competitions that involve throwing axes, chopping wood and cutting logs with chainsaws. Called lumberjills, the female equivalent of lumberjacks, the women travel the world pursuing the hobby and the glory that comes with it.
The skills run in Ms. Mikloiche's blood. Her father, Chip Arthur, still competes in lumberjack events in his late 60s, and she began competitive ax throwing at age 9. Today she can compete in most events at the competitions.
"[My dad] never pushed me to do it, but it just ... was there and we just did it," she said.
Ms. Mikloiche has in turn passed down her knowledge to her 15-year-old son, Rick. Her husband, Steve, also participates.
Three years ago, Ms. Mikloiche was asked to give ax-throwing lessons to Jacob Reeder, now 14, whose parents, John and Mary Reeder of Union Dale, in turn decided to start learning as well. Today, the families travel together to competitions around the country, participating in an average of 36 shows each year from mid-May to mid-October.
Being able to win takes not only practice but also weight training and cardiovascular exercise.
"Everybody will look at it and go, 'That's easy to do,' " Ms. Mikloiche said. "A lot of it's just the short burst of the 40-second, 50-second endurance to be able to keep chopping."
Most lumberjacks and -jills aren't loggers but work instead as jewelers, chemists and in other trades. Ms. Mikloiche is a "lunch lady" for Forest City Regional School District.
Ms. Mikloiche has traveled to Australia three times for competitions and will return again this fall for an event she described as "basically the closest thing you can get to being in the Olympics."
The people they meet on the competitive circuit are like a big family, they said, and they would do anything for each other.
"When you're competing against people, you're there to compete," Ms. Mikloiche said. "But in the same hand, you walk back to your vehicle and you're friends and family."
That family includes more women than it had even a few years ago, when Ms. Mikloiche said competitions had trouble filling spots in the women's division. These days, about 25 to 30 women compete regularly in the New York State Lumberjacks Association, for which Ms. Mikloiche is treasurer.
The competition itself has changed for women, too. Years ago, women only used to throw axes or do Jack-and-Jill crosscut, in which a man and woman together saw a log. That was all women were allowed to do, Ms. Mikloiche said.
But now, women have their own divisions or participate against men on a handicap basis, which might involve giving women smaller pieces of wood or requiring them to make fewer cuts than the men. Competitors wear protection like chain mail and shin guards, but injuries still can occur. Ms. Mikloiche recalled a time several years ago when she cut her foot while pole felling but finished the event and placed despite the injury.
"It was real muddy and raining that day, and after I got done chopping the front side of the pole, I lifted my foot out of the mud and it just gushed blood," she said, adding that she received nine stitches as a result.
First Published June 23, 2012 1:31 am