August 26, 2013

Ax women send chips flying at Windsor Fair's Woodsmen's Field Day

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINDSOR — At first glance, Michelle Morse and Alissa Harper, slim and pony-tailed, don't look much like lumberjacks.

click image to enlarge

Michelle Morse prepares to launch an ax during a throwing competition today at the Windsor Fair Woodsmen's Field Day.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Michelle Morse competes in a wood cutting event today during the Windsor Fair Woodsmen's Field Day. Morse, of Eastbrook, is the world champion in the lumberjill standing block chop competition.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

That changes when their axes start swinging and the wood chips start flying.

The pair, who competed in Woodsmen's Field Day events Monday at the Windsor Fair, are so skilled with axes, Peaveys and saws they travel the country and internationally, competing in professional timber sports competitions and shows.

Morse, of Eastbrook, in Hancock County, took first place in the standing block chop earlier this month in what Harper said is considered the world championship for their sport, the Worlds Open Lumberjills Contest in Boonville, N.Y.

And, together at the same competition, the teammates placed fourth in the Peavey log roll.

"When people look at her, they'll ask 'You can do this?' " said Jackie Reny, Morse's mother, who lives in Vassalboro. "Then they see her chop. To see the power of her chop is amazing. She has always excelled at sports. She's a hard worker no matter what it is. There's no fat on these girls."

Monday at the fair, Morse and Nancy Zalewski, of Wisconsin, took first place in the two-person women's crosscut competition, ripping two cuts through a roughly foot-wide piece of pine timber by wrestling a massive, gleaming steel-toothed saw back and forth between them in 9.56 seconds, a second faster than their next-closest competition.

Morse said her best event is the standing block chop, which is pretty much what is sounds like — competitors stand and chop through a large block of wood. The event was not part of Monday's events, however.

Her least favorite — ax throwing.

The physical education and health teacher, athletic director and soccer coach at Narraguagus High School in Harrington compared ax throwing to free throw shooting in basketball — something that almost anybody can do with a little training but difficult to master consistently. Much of the challenge, she said, is mental.

Harper, of Bar Harbor, is the owner of Axe Women Loggers of Maine, a team of all-female timber sports athletes who compete and put on shows throughout the country.

They're sponsored by Logrite and Stihl chainsaws, and compete in custom-made T-shirts that bear the name of the team's website. The back of Morse's says "Girls Kick Axe."

The 40-year-old said she likes the competition and active lifestyle that comes with such timber-related events, and they help keep her in shape.

Woodsmen's day events at the fair included the log roll, bucksaw, wood chopping, two classes of chainsaw contests and the springboard chop.

In the springboard chop, competitors square up against a 15-foot tall vertical log, into which they must chop two notches into which they place narrow, thin pieces of flexible wood — springboards — which they then use to clamber up to the top.

From there they must chop off the top of the log from their precarious perch on the springboard.

Master of ceremonies Dave Clement, of Cornville, said competitors need to take care in making their notches, or risk their springboards not being able to hold their weight when they swing their axes.

Competitors came from across the country for the event, including some who hold the world records in some events.

Competitors in the daylong events also included locals such as Sheriden and his still-quick-with-a-Peavey father Bob Doyle, of Winthrop and in his 70s, who Clement said also provided equipment and helped setup for the event.

Tuesday is Horsemen's Day at the fair, with events including a 4-H horse show, farmers' ox pull, donkey show, pig scramble and pickup truck and tractor pulling.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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