Stay calm. Move with purpose. Keep your head. Swing and get the axe out. Six hit holes. I had been given a million great tips about cutting springboard by a lot of people with a lot more experience/insight/knowledge than I will ever have. All of it was running through my head as I heard the countdown for my first event of the day at my first trip to the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series on campus at Purdue last April. Thousands of practice holes, hundreds of board sticks and practice climbs were all attempting to ooze themselves through my sweating arms, into the tree and then up the pole. Going into this event I had been more nervous than I had ever been going into a contest, and with good reason. It was my Series debut, my brother had come from Chicago and every other competitor in the contest was someone who I knew, admired, watched their racing videos or all of the above. Carson, Rick, Warrick, Matt, Bradshaw, Adam, Jason, Mark all of these guys standing around reminded me of the stage I was on. Unfortunately, the one piece of advice that I was neither given nor did I implement, was “keep your feet on the board or bad things will happen.” That afternoon they sure did.
A reasonable person may ask what part of climbing over six feet into the air with a 6.5 pound razor makes sense, and I guess this is where I admit I am not so much a reasonable person anymore. There I was, standing on a thinned out two-by-twelve whacking away when all of the sudden I saw first only sky, and then the fast approaching ground. Next thing I saw was Adam LaSalle with a stern look on his face saying "don't move," which was perfectly fine as I sure didn't feel like moving. I was waiting for my brain to process the reality that I had just crashed head first onto a concrete sidewalk from the top board of my springboard tree. At the time, I was most concerned that the fall had re-injured my left eye that kept me away from the College championships in 2009. A quick check confirmed camera 1 and camera 2 were both reporting so I trusted that anything else would be survivable. In record time I was in a neck brace on a backboard and taking a ride in the meat wagon still wondering exactly what the heck had just happened. Before leaving I asked where my brother was and how my axe had faired in the crash. Dave assured me it was fine, which I discovered later was an utter lie, but what else do you tell a guy who just landed on his head?
Thankfully my brother slipped into the ambulance for the ride to the ER, Aretha the hound dog had been secured and I was about to spend some of the most painful and hilarious times in a hospital that I had ever experienced. I still didn't know that I had landed on my head and was confused by all the concern about my neck. I knew my wrist hurt and asked one of the nurses to please cut it off while I was in the MRI machine. She calmly replied that they didn't do that there. The MRI and X-rays confirmed my upper half was internally intact but that I had ripped the head off the radius in my left wrist, a common injury for bull rider's and springboard crashers it turns out. Upon hearing this diagnosis, my brother asked how my leg felt. As he was not locked into a neck brace, he could see a growing pool of blood under my left leg and alerted the nurses. God Bless him, Reed then helped take my Carhartt race pants off before the nurse could get the shears to them, saving my “lucky” pants which I raced in the rest of the summer! We found the cause of the blood puddle was a 2" slash in between my hamstring and quad, apparently from my axe. Tuatahi axes cut well, even in flesh! The most remarkable twist in all of this is the power of Mothers, as mine called twice while my health was being assessed, sensing that something had gone wrong. Reed wisely did not answer until my survival had been assured. After signing off with Mom, Reed loaded me up to head back to the competition venue noting that if we hurried, I could likely get back in time to run hotsaw, barefoot and with my arm in a sling. I am lucky to have a good brother.
On the ride back to the competition venue, I watched Reed’s recording of the crash and gained some context about everyone else’s concern. I had stepped off the back of the board with my right foot and planted my face on the concrete after crotching my top board on the way down. A broken wrist and 10 stitches were a small price to pay for the ride I took out of the tree. I feel lucky I have the chance to write about what happened after the crash rather than telling people how much I miss racing. Back at the venue, other competitors helped load my rig up, settle my gear and fill me in on the day that I had missed. Thank you men for that help, as I could not have handled it in the state I was in. After Warrick, Carson and Rick helped me get my hotsaw running, I am still a bit disappointed I didn't get to race it that day. With a packed rig, we filled our bellies and realized getting 1100 miles back to Colorado with one good driver and my broken self to teach class on Monday was going to be a tall order. KC was up to the challenge, feeding me pain meds every 2 hours to keep me asleep and under control, ultimately allowing me to send my coworkers the text message, "In Nebraska, need a surgeon, will call soon, see you tomorrow." Couldn't imagine juggling a broken lumberjack and a 75 pound tiger for an 18 hour hot shot cross country, thank you.
For the next 4.5 weeks I got to spend a lot of time thinking about racing and rocking a sweet pink cast over the new pin that was installed in my left wrist. This also meant my debut at the UM Woodsman's Day as a collegiate alum would be only as a spectator, a source of profound personal disappointment, and the rest of my summer was in jeopardy. I had dodged a huge bullet in lasting through the crash, but I had scheduled a full summer of racing, and was not physically able to perform much more than walking Aretha and going to school. After the shock of the accident wore off, I got back to running, jumping, skipping, kettlebells, etc. but was distracted and disappointed. A lot of time was spent being thankful things worked the way they did but wondering what could have been. When the cast finally came off, I was scared that although I had my wrist back, I was not going to be able to re-teach it to race. I was not good before they put the pin in and was concerned the pin may rob the progress I made to this point in my career. I was also coping with some trust issues. As a right handed chopper, my left hand is on the bottom of the axe and in charge of a lot of control/retention. After getting the medical clearance to train and race again, I had to get the mental clearance to trust when I grabbed an axe it would stay in my hand and that when I grabbed my springboards, I could slam them into the tree. This would take time.
Recovery and racing returned slowly and were a source of significant personal disappointment and embarrassment. My first trip back to the underhand practice stand resulted in a slip and catch with my newly bionic hand, which freed up some more movement in the scar tissue but scared the hell out of me. As the end of June came, so did the first contest, a trip to Libby, Montana with LaSalle, and my first chance at formal redemption. The first event of the day was a standing block that I cut with exceptional mediocrity. Then it was time to pay the piper and get back up a springboard pole in a contest. Adam and Alvie patiently watched, cheered and waited as I punched that little cottonwood block off and stood solidly on my flat top board to survey the scene. I had some hope. I left Libby with redemption and dug my heels in for the rest of the summer. Sadly, my wrist didn’t always cooperate. Later in the summer I struggled through a 14” standing block having to cover it in 3 hits as I couldn’t sink the axe enough to span it in two, not to mention the constant disaster hotsaw was, trying to trust my left hand to get 325cc’s of saw to the wood under control. Later in the summer when I thought I had some momentum, I stuck an axe in the springboard tree and shocked my bionic wrist getting it free. The springboard continued to taunt me as I had a pole slab free in Minnesota while chopping on my top board and competing against many people who were also at Purdue for Springboard Crash 1.0. I luckily bounced that time and escaped without incident. It was mentally taxing and emotionally destructive. I was not the guy who walked out of the summer of 2010 ready for the new Series format and hoping for a chance to go. Thankfully, after 17,000 miles and a flight to Washington, I had some of the magic back, the summer of 2011 competition season behind me and resolve going forward.
Along the way, there were some mistakes, lots of disappointment, pounds of personal embarrassment and lots of encouragement. Without friends and family cheering, asking how things were going and reminding me I can do better, I would not be ready to attack the springboard pole and the summer of 2012 in the way I feel inspired to now. Every competitor I got the chance to see for the rest of the summer took the time to share insights, technique, perspective and good humor about this family that is involved with lumberjack racing. The wrist continues to gain daily and I have been able to be more abusive in my event and personal training. Lots of people have invested a lot of time in me and my recovery from this event, so it is time to help those investments pay off. I was thankful for the chance to take some time off as a competitor to think about the sport and the events more, but I am hungry now for redemption. I have a full slate of contests planned for the Summer of 2012 and am preparing to find and beat the man with a big moustache and bigger dreams who walked off the chopping docks in 2010.