Two U students haul in world titles in lumberjack sports

Jamie Fischer and Mandy Erdmann are both multiple world champions on logs.

by David McCoy

At 8:45 p.m. Monday, Jim Fischer was still at work, unloading his trailer of used logs from last weekend’s lumberjack competition in Madison County, Iowa.

The reason for the late-night labor is what he calls “a sport in the back of the woods,” because of its obscurity. But it’s also in the back of the woods, literally.

Log rolling is Fischer’s passion. But it’s not only that – it’s his family heritage.

Fischer won a world championship in 1972. In 2003, his son Jamie Fischer won his first world championship in the log roll, making the Fischers the first father-son duo to both win world titles in the event.

This weekend, Jamie Fischer, now a 24-year-old graduate student in elementary education at Minnesota, will be going for his third log rolling world championship at the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wis.

And he’s not the only University student dominating the world of lumberjack sports. Mandy Erdmann, a 22-year-old who will start nursing school at Minnesota in the fall, will also be competing at this weekend’s championships. She is a six-time world champion in the boom run.

They both compete in sports that might be gathering more attention and television coverage but are still relatively obscure. Most competitors start early in life and come from families with histories in lumberjack sports.

That’s certainly the case with Jamie Fischer.

“There’s no doubt when you start somebody at something when they’re five that they’re going to be good at it,” Jim Fischer said. “But the family heritage part of it definitely had a lot to do with it as far as him sticking with it.”

That’s been the problem for log rolling and the other lumberjack sports, Jim Fischer said. Children pick it up young, but they don’t stick with it. Once middle school and high school come around, the choices are narrowed to sports like hockey, baseball and track.

So while there are more amateur competitions and many more young people in the sport now than when he competed, there are comparatively less adults.

Jim Fischer said that while there used to be 40 people competing at the pro level in the water events, that number is now down to 20. Canada used to send a dozen competitors; now there are only a couple.

The difficulty level of the sport is another thing that has kept it from becoming a lifelong passion for more people, he said.

In log rolling, competitors must dismount their competitor three out of five times to win a match. They cannot touch each other and cannot touch the center line. If both stay on the log past the time limit, they go down an inch in diameter to smaller logs for each round. Men start on 15-inch logs, and women start on 14-inch logs.

“Log rolling is probably one of the most difficult of the lumberjack events because of its uniqueness,” Jim Fischer said. “It takes a special balance. Everyone can learn it to some degree, but it takes forever to get good because you don’t progress very fast.”

Even Jamie Fischer fell away from the sport while he was in high school, instead focusing on hockey, soccer and track.

But by the time he was a junior, he couldn’t help but go back to his roots. Then, when he started going to college at Minnesota as an undergraduate, his interest soared.

Jamie Fischer is also a four-time world champion in the boom run, which pits two competitors against each other on opposite links of logs. The runners must run from one dock, over the floating line of logs, and onto the opposite dock, where they then turn around and run back.

Erdmann said the boom run is all about speed.

“When I go across the boom run, I get a fast start and take only about two or three steps on each log,” she said. “It’s going to spin regardless, but the faster you go, the easier it is.”

Erdmann started competing when she was seven years old after seeing it demonstrated at a festival. She said she began in a YMCA club and turned pro when she was 16.

Both Erdmann and Jamie Fischer now earn enough money from lumberjack tournament winnings to support themselves through college without jobs.

In fact, Erdmann said she has almost all of her graduate school costs paid for. Not a bad investment, seeing as how she uses the spare time to train three hours a day.

The Fischers also supplement that income by running one of the largest log rolling schools in the world in Hudson, Wis., and by supplying equipment. They make spiked shoes that are worn in the professional events, similar to soccer shoes but with sharp metal spikes.

They also purchase cedar logs that are used to make telephone poles and then use a lathe to refine them into perfect logs for competition. Jamie Fischer handles the water logs and Jim Fischer handles the sawing logs.

Jamie Fischer also competes in the other lumberjack events, which include hand sawing, chain sawing, chopping and axe throwing. But he’s best at the two water events.

All that competition leaves both he and Erdmann with a lot to balance when it comes to schoolwork. They said they always try to meet with teachers to plan out when they’ll turn in assignments early or late, much like a Gophers athlete would.

There’s just one difference.

“A lot of the D-I athletes, especially your better ones, are going to turn pro and they’re going to make a (lot) of money,” Jamie Fischer said. “This sport started as a hobby and as a family tradition. To me, it’s what I do and what I love.”