In less than two months, the Professional Log Rolling circuit will kick off its 2016 season in Orland Park, Ill. And with it, something the Log Rolling world hasn’t seen at this magnitude in years. Something American sports fans seem to love even more than winning.
A comeback story.
Or in this case, the possibility of several comebacks, which could include some of the best Timber Sport athletes who have ever competed.
Former Log Rolling and Boom Run Champion Jaime Fischer has made his decision clear. Fischer has confirmed he will compete in 2016, following a five year layoff. Same for three time Women’s World Champion Lizzie Horvitz, who hasn’t rolled professionally in nearly two years. She says she’ll compete in as many tournaments as she can this summer. The legendary Dan McDonough, owner of nine Log Rolling World Championships, has not officially committed yet, but is considering a return in 2016. Former women’s champions Shana Verstegen and Jenny Atkinson, who all missed parts of last year, are expected to be near full strength, and both could make a big impact on the upcoming season as well. And with that, the foundation for a compelling and possibly highly entertaining 2016 season has been laid out. A season in which several former champions could match up once again, or for the first time, face off with a younger generation of rollers hungry to make their own mark.
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For 34 year old Jaime Fischer, it was mostly the scale that did it. That and his six year old son Luke, four year old daughter Adeline, and wife Jill. Fischer, who won Lumberjack Log Rolling World Championships in 2003, ’04, and ’06, and was also among the top log rollers on ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games during that stretch, readily admits his prime physique of the mid 2000’s was long gone a year ago. He’s quick to point out that a routine trip to the scale may have kick started his comeback attempt. “Over Memorial Day I was at my heaviest,” says Fischer. “I weighed 217 pounds, which was considerably higher than my ideal weight.” Later in the summer, Fischer had a conversation with Jill and both kids about the possibility of rolling professionally again. The 217 pound mark was motivation to consider getting into shape and rolling again. The conversation with Jill, Luke, and Adeline clinched it.
“I’d just gotten back from a lumber jack show and my family asked if I would ever consider competing again in Hayward,” says Fischer. “It started with my wife, and then my kids started talking about how they had never seen me compete. The conversation popped up that at one time I was a pretty good roller. So I wanted to continue our family heritage and take them up there (Hayward) and show them what it’s all about. One thing led to another and I said I’ll try.”
That conversation, which occurred about eight months ago, helped trigger a comeback story that has continued to move forward with each passing month. “My goal at first was to just get into shape,” says Fischer. “I’ve lost 30 pounds since (last spring) by working out and eating healthier. My first goal was to lose at least 20 pounds before Christmas. When I hit Christmas and hit my goal, I started training a lot harder, specifically working out for World Championships.” Fischer has been regularly training near his Stillwater, MN home at local YMCA’s in Hudson, WI and Woodbury, MN. His training partners include fellow pro roller Tyler Berard and women’s top ranked roller, Ellie Davenport. “I’ve really been enjoying it” says Fischer. “Working on technique, endurance, and doing a lot of log rolling now with Ellie and Tyler.” As far as style, Fischer admits his once vaunted speed is coming back, but at 34-years old, he may have to approach the pro circuit in a slightly different way. “When I was younger my style was definitely speed, I was really fast,” says Fischer. A former Minnesota state champion sprinter in high school, Fischer was considered to be among the quickest log rollers on the planet during his prime. “Now that I’m a little bit older I don’t know if I still have all that speed,” says Fischer. “At this point I have to assume that some of my pros verses cons are going to be experience. I know there’s a lot of younger guys coming up. And I think the previous experience I’ve had will probably play as big a role as being physically ready.”
Fischer has been unequivocal discussing his ultimate goal, almost scoffing at the idea of simply rolling in Hayward for nostalgic purposes. “My goal would be to win,” says Fischer. “And if I don’t, I’ll have fallen short of my goal.” Simple as that. He even goes as far as to indicate that his possible opponents this July are already factoring into his thinking. Among Fischer’s potential toughest tests could be reigning LWC Champion J.R Salzman, and fellow former champ Darren Hudson. Fischer hints that a win in Hayward for him would be great either way, but maybe not quite the same if he doesn’t go through Salzman or Hudson to get there. He’s looking to not just win, but beat the very best. Fischer’s competitive streak has even crossed over to the Boom Run, which he also plans to run this summer. Fischer has won a remarkable seven boom titles in Hayward, and is considered by many to be the best boom runner of all time.
This July will mark the 10-year anniversary of Fischer’s last Lumberjack Log Rolling World title. It’s been nine years since he’s won a Boom Run Championship. That time period in the mid to late 2000’s was also a transition time for both Jaime and Jill. A time in their history that has now come full circle. “Six years ago we started our family and it was guaranteed money when you did shows, so that’s what I did,” says Fischer. “I stepped away from the sport (and focused on doing Lumberjack Shows), started our family, fixed up the house. But this year, it made sense financially. We were able to take that weekend (LWC) off from doing shows. Specifically because my kids had never seen me compete.”
On July 7 of this summer Fischer will turn 35 years old. Three weeks later he’ll try and make history by becoming one of only 11 Professional men’s Log rollers since the late 1800’s to win at least four combined Log Rolling World championships. He’ll also look to add to his record seven boom titles at the Lumberjack World Championships. After five years away from professional log rolling, one thing seems certain about Fischer’s comeback. Win or lose, many of Timber Sports old guard will welcome back one of Haywards great champions. And a new generation will get a chance to watch one of the best ever.
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For Three time Women’s World Champion Lizzie Horvitz, her comeback story this summer may very well be grounded in a chance meeting that took place a decade ago in Vail, Colorado. While teaching her own newly developed log rolling class in Vail, one of Lizzie’s newest students, a recent University of Colorado graduate, was on the verge of changing both of their lives. Greg Horvitz had never log rolled. Greg not only decided to become a regular at Lizzie’s Log rolling class, but the two eventually started dating, and are now married with two sons - three year old Henry, and four month old Oliver, who was born on Christmas Eve. The couple, who now live in Minneapolis, are gearing up this spring for what they hope is a successful comeback for Lizzie, after missing all of last season while pregnant with Oliver. Horvitz admits with two children under the age of four, training at a championship level has had its challenges so far. She’s also quick to point out that Greg’s contribution will likely be an extremely important part of her comeback this summer.
“He is a necessity to my success and he has been so supportive,” says Lizzie. “Behind every successful competitor there’s a strong partner. Even before kids, he was really a big part of my success. He’s the one I talk to about things, about my nervousness and my anxieties. He knows the drill and how important it is to me and how time consuming it is. Even in the past, with just Henry it was challenging to get to the matches and get him lunch, but Greg’s great at juggling everything in those situations. He’s also so important to my training. He’s great if I’m training and he needs to make dinner. Whatever needs to be done he takes care of it.” As for that chance meeting 10 years ago in Colorado? Lizzie, who grew up in Wisconsin and attended college in Vermont, was relatively new to Colorado, as was Greg. “I was living out in Vail for a while and had started a Log Rolling program at a local gym,” says Lizzie. “He was looking for a gym to join and saw a little cartoon of a person log rolling. It said they were offering classes, so he asked about it. He admittedly signed up for that gym so he could try log rolling. So that’s how we met. We met log rolling, which I think is pretty cool.”
The last time she stood on a log in competition, her arms were held high in the air after winning the 2014 Lumberjack World Championship, the third of her career. She’s made it clear that she’d like to go for number four this summer in Hayward. If she accomplishes that feat, Lizzie will join a group of only eight other women who have won four or more titles, including her mom, Judy, who won seven championships in the 1970’s and early 80’s.
Lizzie’s approach heading into this comeback year is almost certain to focus around her training, as well as both kids, Henry and Oliver, and of course Greg. She won her first world title before meeting Greg. Now he’s all but part of each win. “We have the log rolling club now in Minneapolis,” says Lizzie. “We go down a couple times a week to the beach near our house and everyone’s rolling. We get Henry on the log and I just think that he (Greg) recognizes how great a family activity it is and what a great sport it will be for our children.” As the summer approaches, some of Lizzie’s focus will almost certainly be on competing and finishing as high as she can throughout the 2016 season. Without question, she’ll have some help along the way. And maybe one of the best cheering sections out there.
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As April turns toward May, Nine time Log Rolling world Champion Dan McDonough has started the process of setting up his Jack Pine Lumberjack show in Mackinaw City, Michigan, which will include roughly 100 Lumberjack Shows this year. The camp may also serve as a setting for what could be an improbable comeback into professional log rolling. Improbable because McDonough just turned 55 years old. Also improbable because he last rolled professionally more than 10 years ago. The high majority of top ranked pros are in their 20’s and 30’s, most at least 20 years younger than McDonough. Despite those odds, McDonough is seriously considering a comeback to professional log rolling, and is hinting this month that Jack Pine may serve as more than a location for his popular lumber jack show. It may also serve as a training ground.
“I’ve been lifting a lot of weights and working on my strength,” says McDonough. “But I haven’t been running as much and Log rolling is really an endurance event. If you lose your wind than you lose your focus. I used to run some extraordinary fast times in four miles and I’m not close to that right now. I know what it takes to step on a log. You can have all the strength or quickness in the world but if you don’t have endurance you’re sunk.” In one breath, McDonough downplays the possibility of a comeback to Hayward, saying it’s “less than 10 percent” he’ll return to compete for a possible 10th World Championship. Almost on cue, his excitement over the possibility of competing again seems to take over, strongly hinting that he’ll consider rolling in some of the earlier tournaments leading up to World Championships. “Chicago or Onalaska probably,” says McDonough. “My thoughts are if I can go to Chicago and see if I can still really roll competitively than that would determine if Hayward is still realistic. So that would the litmus test.”
There is precedent for professional athletes attempting and succeeding at or near the age of 50. Fellow Timber Sport sensation Jason
Wynyard has stayed at the top of his game as he collides with middle age. So has five time Log Rolling champion Brian Duffy, who continues to hang on to a top 10 ranking, and will roll this summer at the age of 47. So is it possible that McDonough can grind out one more successful year on a log? “It’s not physical,” says McDonough. “It’s all mental on that log. How to size someone up. What’s your plan? Don’t just go out there and free willy. You’ve got to have a plan and there’s different ways of attacking a match.” The enthusiasm in McDonough’s voice is genuine. Clearly there’s a part of him that wants one more crack at rolling professionally. The enthusiasm is also balanced off with a touch of pragmatism. “I know winning may not be realistic anymore,” McDonough adds.
Over the next month McDonough will begin training for sure. He’ll work with fellow pro Log Roller Dereck Knutson, who will be part of Jack Pine’s Lumberjack shows this summer. What morphs out of those sessions with Knutson still remain a mystery. Will the workouts evolve into McDonough eventually grinding through his four mile run at or near the pace he once did? Will the 55 year old former champion eventually start plowing through his once rigorous 45 minute rolling sessions, which once took him a half mile across an area lake? Or might a different reality set in? Might the former champion decide it’s best to stay retired? Over the next few months McDonough should have his answer.
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Fischer, McDonough, and Horvitz have won 15 combined World Championships as professional Log Rollers. Atkinson, who missed the second half of last year with a severe mid foot ligament sprain, will bring an impressive resume of four Women’s Log Rolling championships (three Lumberjack, one log rolling) into action this year. Verstegen, who’s won 23 tournaments in her career, and four world titles, should be close to full strength after missing the beginning of 2015 following the birth of her son Greyson. There are still several questions to be answered on exactly who might return in 2016. But if even a portion of the aforementioned former champions makes a strong return to the pro circuit this summer, the sport of professional log rolling will have a very different look this season. A season in which could be looked back on as the year of the comeback.