Lumberjacking sharpens focus for UW-Stevens Point forestry student
10/14/2013
​Ben ​Hansen at his Amherst Junction training area

Ben Hansen admits that during his early college days, his wildlife major described his personal life as much as his field of study. This was so true that he was suspended from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for a semester and placed on academic probation.
 

When he returned, what helped him focus on his studies and his future was an extra-curricular sport, competitive lumberjacking.  “Timbersports was a good outlet for all this extra energy I had,” said Hansen, 22, of Milladore. 

His roommate was involved in UW-Stevens Point’s collegiate timbersports team through the student chapter of the Society of American Foresters, and Hansen decided to try it. Men and women compete in events involving chopping or sawing wood.  

His first competition, Klondike Days in Eagle River in 2010, was an eye opener. Hansen was dressed like a lumberjack, but he was just beginning to understand the precision and physical fitness needed to counter the friction and exertion of doing timbersports. “It’s a sprint with your upper body,” he said.  

As he trained for timbersports, Hansen discovered that the exercise also improved his focus on classes and homework. And school work helped him focus on timbersports. Demands of both sharpened his time management.

The timbersports team, friends and College of Natural Resources alumni, faculty and staff, including associate Dean Paul Doruska and Dean Christine Thomas, were helpful and supportive, Hansen said. The message he got was, “We’re here for you, if you really want to do this.” 

Doruska recalls Hansen “trying to find the best fit, both academically and professionally.” When he joined the Society of American Foresters timbersports team, Hansen grew as a student and person, Doruska said. “He went from the quiet person in the back of the classroom to being an engaged, focused professional.” 

“Getting suspended was a real kick in the pants for me,” Hansen said. It helped him realize, “I’m at one of the best natural resources colleges in the world with the best professors who knew what they were talking about and kept me interested. I wanted to do this. I have to do this.”  

Hansen lifted weights, ran, focused on getting in peak physical condition, then worked on technique and training. “Being long and tall sets you up for it.”

Getting started in the sport is costly. Wielding an axe an inch from your toes requires good protective gear. A competition-caliber saw of hand-filed steel costs $2,000. Sharpening alone is $300. A precision axe is another $500. 

Being successful also requires solid knowledge of math, science and forestry, said Hansen, who is now a forestry administration and utilization major. The angle to chop or saw a log depends on whether it is hardwood or soft, the wood’s density, how the tree grew, where the branches came out, and yes, even how the chips fall. “There’s very much a science behind it – engineering, forestry, chemistry,” Hansen said. “The college does a good job of immersing you in all aspects of natural resources.”  

Hansen won the Midwest regional timbersports titles in 2012 and 2013 and was on the UW-Stevens Point championship team at the Midwest Foresters’ Conclave team, which combines tree and wood identification with sawing, chopping and log-rolling events. 

UW-Stevens Point’s first collegiate champion Adam LaSalle (2009), now a professional lumberjack, served as his mentor and trainer, as did Nancy Zalewski, who’s won the Women's All Around at the Lumberjack World Championships nine times. Hansen also trains with pro lumberjack Warrick Hallett, traveling 500 miles to Minnesota once or twice monthly. 

Training is a huge investment – both in time and money. It forced Hansen to become good at balancing his college studies, homework, working on the family farm plus another in Amherst Junction, and training for his sport. 

His parents, Mike and Deb Hansen, are also supportive. Their organic Good Earth Farms includes a training platform for Ben and a new crop: 10 acres of aspen trees to be used for timbersports. 

In June, Hansen won the national title of the collegiate timbersports competition held in Tennessee. He will compete with the U.S. Timbersports relay team at the STIHL world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Oct. 24–26. He will also compete as a professional in the 2014 STIHL Timbersports series. 

“I wanted to be competing as a professional before I left college. To see that come to fruition is really gratifying,” he said. 

“It’s not over yet. He’s set his goals higher, and he’s strong enough to get there,” Doruska said. 

Hansen expects to graduate in December 2014. He hopes to own a small business someday that keeps him outdoors – using a chainsaw.


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