Family stacks up against competitors in lumberjack contest

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 5, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
ROCKWELL — The pile of wood stacked up in the Slingerlands’ backyard would lead one to believe the family is stocking up to heat their home this winter.
That assumption is false.
“We don’t even have a fireplace,” Mike Slingerland said with a chuckle Sunday.
The family of lumberjacks actually keeps the wood, ranging from white pine to yellow poplar, on hand year-round for training purposes.
Although Mike Slingerland and his son Matt, 20, spend the most time at the practice pad, the rest of the family also frequents the area.
“The thing I like best about lumberjack sports is that they’re really family-oriented,” Mike said.
Mike, 47, picked up lumberjacking from his father at the age of 13. By age 15 he was competing and at 17-years-old he won his first world championship.
Mike’s father, Richard Slingerland, passed the sport down to him.
“(He) got started in the sport in the early ’70s and just loved it and was really good at it,” he said. “Two years later he ended up being the state champion in New York.”
Now, Mike is passing lumberjack sports down to his children.
Both Matt and his twin brother, Eric, began training about a decade ago.
Eric stuck with the sport for about six years, but ended up deciding it wasn’t for him.
“He’s studying engineering so he got interested in other things,” Mike said.
But Matt stuck with it and has never looked back.
“I wish I could do this every day,” he said. “It’s a nice competitive sport and it’s always fun trying to be the best.”
And Matt’s well on his way to being the best.
He placed third in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Southern Professional Qualifier earlier this year, coming in just behind his Mike.
“I’m starting to decline as he’s coming into his peak,” Mike said. “So that will be a nice transition.”
The TIMBERSPORTS competition will air on ESPN 2 starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Mike, who has won 24 world titles, is also training his 13-year-old daughter Sara. She attended her first competition this year, placing third in an axe-throwing contest, which requires participates to hurl an axe at a target 20 feet away.
Lumberjack competitions typically consist of six events that test athletes’ abilities to chop, saw and split wood in a variety of fashions.
Mike and Matt limit their practices during the off-season these days, but they pick back up to at least three times a week after the holidays. Each practice runs a couple of hours with the two taking turns critiquing each other.
“Now, it’s less coaching and more helping each other get better,” Mike said.
During the summer months, the pair typically trains five days a week.
Both men do weightlifting exercises to stay in shape.
“Weightlifting is pretty key in developing your power and explosiveness,” Mike said.
But the most important things is technique.
“A chopping swing is a lot like a golf swing,” Mike said. “If your swing isn’t exactly perfect odds are you’re going to lose.
“Every cut counts.”
Mike, who works as a pediatric physical therapist for Montgomery County Schools, said he’s stuck with the sport for so long for a simple reason.
“I think everybody likes doing what they’re good at doing,” he said. “And the more you like it, the more you practice it, the better you get … it’s kind of a circular logic.”
Matt, who graduated from Gray Stone Day School, is currently studying athletic training at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He plans to follow in his father’s footsteps again by pursuing a master’s in physical therapy.
He said lumberjack sports are a fun way to travel around the world.
The pair take part in between 15 and 20 competitions each year. This year, they traveled as far as Oregon.
And, it’s a lucrative hobby.
“I don’t have to have a job while at school like some of my friends,” Matt said. “This is sort of like a job, but I like doing it.”
Matt is sponsored by Owen & Owen Welding of Rockwell, while the international company Wood-Mizer sponsor Mike.
But Mike said the money isn’t the greatest reward, it’s spending quality time with his son.
“It’s really helped out our relationship,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.