With events like ax throwing, wood chopping and log rolling, the world of woodsman sports isn’t typically associated with women.
But women like Wendy MacQueen are changing all that.
“I have enjoyed watching it as a child and always thought that this isn’t something that ‘well-behaved women’ do,” MacQueen said. “It’s difficult, it’s different. It’s not a typical sport for women. We don’t have the upper body strength that men do. To be able to perform these events is quite a physical feat of stamina, strength and condition with quick precise execution of well-placed blows.”
It’s been years in the making for MacQueen, who started the process back in 2019. That was in preparation for the 2020 Johnny Appleseed Festival in Sheffield. But the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans, forcing organizers to cancel the event.
“I lost focus,” MacQueen admits. “Fast forward to fall of 2020 and I said no way I’m training and if it gets canceled again I’m still going to compete even if it’s just with myself, but one day I will end up on that stage with some of the sports most elite athletes, the STIHL Timbersports and other internationally known athletes.”
So train she did. And despite the difficulty, she never stopped.
“It was grueling,” she said. “The first time I tried to do the underhand chop, I was so sore and my hands bled from blisters and poor grip and hand placement. I could barely stand and was on the couch the entire next day. I knew there was more to it than just swinging an axe then. I reached out to Whole Health Chiropractic and they hooked me up with their incredible personal trainers, Verlynn Klepp and Jodi English. As we progressed, I focused with Jodi and her intense workout classes. A lot of endurance and core strength training with upper and body workouts building muscles that I had no idea I would be using later, I only knew that it was brutal!”
But she knew she wanted to push forward.
“It was terrible, the first workout,” she said. “I wanted to vomit. I was so out of shape and didn’t eat right or sleep right. I told myself I wasn’t going to get to that point and I better get my stuff together if I wanted to make this dream happen.”
She credits her trainers for helping her make that happen.
“She (English) really made me accountable for how I treated myself and my body both mentally and physically, to eat better and to rest properly,” MacQueen said. “We became great friends in the process and even enjoyed doing a mud run with obstacles at Holiday Valley this past summer. It’s been an amazing process.”
Along the way, she sought out other competitors, who she also credits with helping to prepare her.
“I trained a lot with John Daley, a local competitor and friend of my family from way back,” MacQueen said. “He used to have a sawmill on my family’s farm. So this has been in my history one way or another for quite a while. He lent me equipment, got blocks for me to chop and helped me get my basic start.
“After a while, he put me in contact with Collin Shepherd, another local competitor who has been amazing on and off the STIHL Timbersports series,” she added. “She guided me as to how a woman should approach these events, how to get power and how to use proper technique to get through the blocks and logs.”
Like any endeavor that is worthwhile, it often takes a village. MacQueen gives a tremendous amount of credit to her family for supporting her and helping her to prepare as well.
“My parents have laughed but they were also leery of me chopping my foot off,” she said. “My sisters have worked out on and off with me throughout many sessions and been amazing pinnacles of strength when I felt weak and defeated.
“My husband, God bless him. He’s been by my side, never questioning my craziness or my dreams. He’s gone with me to train to help me learn my measurements and to critique my techniques.
“My children, are sometimes excited and sometimes roll their eyes as their mother puts her chainmail on and heads out the door with an ax to practice in the backyard. They have gone on runs, lifted weights with me and helped transform our garage into our home gym.
“My friends and family have just been wonderful and so supportive and that really showed at the Fair, when I saw them there and heard all their screams as we went about our events.”
All of the training, all of the love and support led to a Thursday night at the Warren County Fair. It was a moment MacQueen was built and ready for, but she was also understandably nervous.
“I was terrified, my arms were shaking,” she said. “This was it. I saw my family and friends in the stands, my kids, my husband and my fellow competitors all there smiling and one said to me ‘just smile and laugh and have fun.’ And I did.”
And it was a whirlwind.
“It all happened so fast, one event into another, talking and learning, laughing and sweating,” MacQueen said. “I did two events I had never tried before and I loved it. It was fun to try the log roll with Collin Shepherd she really was so patient and great explaining it to me as we raced down with peevees in hand! And the standing block chop, that was utter hell.
“Standing there swinging a sharp axe on an event I had never tried and man it made my arms and shoulders cry. And I got so angry I wasn’t going to quit no matter how tired or how long it took me. I was going to see where everything was at that moment and go forward.
“The underhand chop was fun but I found out the middle of the block I had drawn had about four knots dead center of it and it made it hard to do but I got through it. This was to be expected and something you just powered through, quitting isn’t an option.”
She says there’s still lots of work to do to get where she wants to be, but that doesn’t bother her one bit.
“The axe throw I need to practice a lot more,” MacQueen said. “But Arden Cogar Jr really was awesome and gave me some one-on-one advice that I’m tucking away for future practice once I build a target in my back yard – God bless my neighbors.”
Through it all, through all the laughter, the smiles and the tears, she’s learned a lot about herself.
“It’s honestly been the biggest emotional catapult for me,” she said. “You literally face what you are from the get-go and have to make it happen, nobody can do it for you. Not your trainer, not your axe or your friends but only you.”
And there is strength in numbers.
“There are more women than you realize in it and it’s a sisterhood,” she said. “And they are all welcoming. And the guys are just as great. We are all here to keep the legend of the woodman, the lumberjack and the lumberjill alive.”
So what advice would MacQueen have for women who are looking to get into timber sports?
“It’s you versus nature, versus yourself,” she said. “If you think women can’t be beautiful and have muscles, you got another thing coming. So get out there, go see events, go support your local athletes, and don’t be afraid to talk to them. They will all be super receptive to you and your questions. Like my dad always said, being normal is boring, and he couldn’t be more right.”