The 2015 Log Rolling World Championships get underway this week in Hayward, WI, and 2015 will marka changing of the guard not seen in several years at the iconic Lumberjack Bowl. Multiple veteran rollers and past champions will not be competing this week, including both the men’s (Darren Hudson) and women’s (Lizzie Horvitz) champions from a year ago. But maybe the most notable omission will be three time Women’s World Champion, Jenny Atkinson, whose streak of 33 consecutive appearances (amateur and pro) will end, following a foot injury she aggravated during the Three Rivers Roleo tournament earlier this month in Onalaska. “This will be the first time since I was nine years old, the absolute first time in my whole life since I started 34 years ago that I won’t stand on a log in the hallowed lumberjack bowl,” says Atkinson. “That dawned on me for the first time as I was driving up to the tournament.”
The 42-year old Atkinson, who has won six World Titles combined as an amateur and a pro since 1982, is in a cast and still on crutches this week, and likely will not roll again until September after being diagnosed with a severe mid foot ligament sprain.
Atkinson’s streak of 24 straight years rolling in Hayward as a pro is the longest of any current Log Roller (Five time men’s champion Brian Duffy missed a year with a torn Achilles). “I was lucky I was never hurt, I’ve been able to roll through cancer and right after having a baby,” says Atkinson. “This will be the first time I won’t be rolling since I started.”
As for the injury itself, Atkinson says her foot had been bothering her while training leading up to the Roleo, but the initial pain was not severe. During a back bracket match with Anjali Krongard in Onalaska, Atkinson says the pain intensified considerably.
“Every fall it hurt worse and worse,” she says. “And finally I realized oh my god, win or lose this match, either way, I’m going to be done, there’s not a chance I’m going to be able to step on a log again. Because by the end of it I was I was almost trying to hop on my one foot on the log not trying to put pressure on the one foot, the one that hurt.”
Remarkably, Atkinson not only finished the match, but won, 3-1, on one leg. It would be her last match of the day, as she was forced to forfeit her next match against Taylor Biser.
“I felt the real pain of it all (after the Krongard match), and I couldn’t even walk off the dock, could not put an ounce of pressure on it,” says Atkinson.
Atkinson admits it won’t be easy to watch this week but is also looking forward to being at Hayward.
“I don’t know how it will feel, I’m so excited to still be there and watch the kids, and coach the kids and help out as a judge,’ says Atkinson. I am super sad to not compete but I’m still very excited to be there. It will be hard being on crutches though.”
While Atkinson will be on crutches this week, she’s confident the injury is far from a career ender.
“I see no reason why I can’t be right back in there again,” says Atkinson. Training was going well and things were really going well this year and it was all starting to come together and I was excited about it. People have been very supportive, my sponsors Wood-Mizer, Central Boiler, Altoz. When I watch these often intense matches I feel like I can be right there again if this injury heals completely, which the doctors assume it will. I have confidence that I’ll be able to be competitive again.”
Atkinson has thrilled a generation of fans at the Lumberjack bowl for more than two decades, including her classic five fall win over Lizzie Hoeschler to win the 2005 title , and her shocking run to the quarterfinals last year at age 41.
There won’t be a run in 2015, but the 2016 World championships are 12 months away, and Jenny Atkinson plans on being there. And if all goes according to plan, beginning in 2016, she’ll start a new streak.
SALZMAN GOES FOR TEN
In 1969 Jubiel Wickheim won the last of his 10 Log Rolling World titles. For the past 46 years, Wickheim’s 10 titles have marked the most by any men’s professional in the sport. This week, 36-year old J.R. Salzman can join Wickheim with a victory in Hayward. Salzman enters World Championships with nine World Titles in Hayward, and is rolling extremely well. Salzman has won all three tournaments he’s rolled in this year (Midwest Championships, Three Rivers Roleo, & Namekagon) and has yet to lose a single fall. “He’s just an incredible force,” says second year pro Garrick Birdsong, who has finished runner up to Salzman twice this year. Despite losing to Darren Hudson at last year’s LWC, Salzman has won nine of the last 17 World titles, and can make history if he locks down number 10 this Saturday.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Brian Duffy – The 46-year old Duffy is one of Log Rolling’s best ever and may have another run in him in 2015. Duffy, who finished in third last year at LWC, has won five World titles.
Garrick Birdsong – The 18 year old Birdsong has shot out of the gate in 2015 with one victory (La Crosse Open) and two runner up finishes (Midwest Championships, Namekagon) and could be a sleeper pick to make a strong run this week.
Derek Knutson – Knutson, who finished in fourth place at last year’s LWC, is a good bet to make a strong showing this year, and could be among the top challengers to Salzman.
Marcel Scott – The 25-year old Halifax, Nova Scotia resident has been training hard and could make a deep run in 2015. Scott finished 5th at World Championships last year & also took home the Boom run title.
Dominick Serpico – The 2nd year pro is off to a good start in 2015, including a quarterfinal 3-2 victory over five time World Champ Duffy earlier this month at the Three Rivers Roleo. Serpico finished sixth last year at LWC.
Spencer Wilkinson – Finished tied for ninth last year at LWC; among the favorites to win the 2015 men’s Boom Title.
Brian Stearns – Good start to 2015 season, with fourth place finish at Midwest Championship and fifth place at Three Rivers Roleo. Finished tied for ninth last year at LWC.
Torrin Hallett – Strong showing at the Midwest Championships last month, finishing third. Grabbed 8th place at LWC last year.
Gretchen Greene – The 2013 LWC champ bounced back from a slow start earlier this year to defeat Ellie Davenport at the Three Rivers Roleo two weeks ago. The 20-year old Greene appears to be poised to make a run at her second World Title this week.
Ellie Davenport – The second year pro has been a shooting star on the women’s circuit this year, with victories at the La Crosse Open, Midwest Championship, Namekagon, and a runner up at the Roleo against Greene. Davenport, who finished ninth last year at LWC, is among the favorites to win this year.
Abby Hoeschler – Hoeschler’s mom Judy is a seven time World Champion, and her sisters Lizzie (three LWC titles) and Katie (one title) have also taken home World championships. 2015 could be Abby’s year, following top three finishes this year at the La Crosse Open, Midwest Championships, and Namekagon River Roll Off.
Shana Verstegen – The four time World Champion, who gave birth to her first child, Greyson, earlier this spring, is gradually getting back into log rolling shape. Verstegen is among the best ever to compete at this event, and her savvy and experience might be enough to make a surprise run at her fifth title this week.
Emily Christopherson – The 28-year old Bangor, WI resident is off to a good start in 2015, with a runner-up at the Midwest Championships, and top five finishes at the Three Rivers Roleo and Namekagon. Christopherson, who finished third at LWC last year, should be a strong contender to win her first World Title this week.
Taylor Duffy – 2011 World Champion finished seventh last year and should be a strong contender in 2015.
Katie Rick – A semi-finalist at last year’s LWC, Rick heads in this week as the fifth ranked roller in the world. Should be in the mix for a top 5 finish or better.
Meredith Ingbretson – Should be a strong contender this week following a top three finish at Namekagon this past weekend. Ingbretson is also the defending LWC Boom Run Champion.
Sam Hadley – Currently ranked 11th in the world, should be in the mix this year. Hadley finished tied for seventh at last year’s LWC.
Claudia Duffy – Among a group of talented young rollers on the women’s side, could be a sleeper pick to make a deep run this week. Finished tied for fifth last year.
Maggie Penning – The top rookie on the women’s side has looked good early in 2015. Penning finished in fifth place against a highly competitive field at the Three Rivers Roleo two weeks ago, and made it to the semi-finals at the Namekagon River Roll off this past weekend.