HEPPNER, Ore. — Kate Page is no Paul Bunyan, but the Oregon woman can swing an ax and use a saw with the best of them.
A native of John Day, Ore., Page has been competing in lumberjack sports since 2014, and competed in the West Coast qualifier June 6 in Centralia, Wash., ahead of the STIHL Timbersports Series July 23-25 in Little Rock, Ark.
“This year was different because of COVID,” Page said. “We have to apply to get into the STIHL series. Normally, the women have three qualifiers and one wild card that qualifies. On paper, they created pools. We compete at our nearest qualifier. There were five at our qualifier.”
With four qualifier competitions throughout the country, Page still is waiting to hear if her time gets her to the U.S. Championships in Arkansas. She should know by the end of the month.
“The anticipation is killing me,” Page said. “I set a personal record in one of my events (single buck, with a cross-cut saw), so that was a positive.”
The first year women were included in the Timbersports Series was 2017, and they went to Cherry Valley, N.Y. In 2018, the qualifier for the women was in Cherry Valley, and those who advanced competed alongside the men in Milwaukee, Wis. Page finished eighth that year.
In 2019, Page finished seventh at the U.S. Championships.
“This year, I want to be in the top five,” Page said.
Page and her husband, Camron Tack, returned to Eastern Oregon in April to be closer to her parents. She works in the Heppner Ranger District in the Umatilla National Forest for the U.S. Forest Service.
“I’m on a fire crew right now,” Page said. “We live at the Tupper Guard Station.”
Tack works construction in Hermiston and is in the U.S. Army Reserve.
From chemistry to the wood pile
Page, who will turn 30 on July 9, was a multi-sport athlete at Grant Union High School. She graduated in 2009, then went to Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls to play basketball.
From OIT, she went to the University of Montana, where she was sitting in a chemistry class when Lara Antonello came to the class to talk about the college’s Woodsman Team and Forestry Club.
Page was intrigued. She went to the first meeting and was hooked.
“I thought it sounded really cool,” Page said. “I played sports in high school and played basketball in college. I took a year off of school — I really only went to play sports. I moved to Montana and went back to school.”
One of the draws of the program was that it offered a chance to travel — if you were good enough.
“She (Antonello) said you can go all over the western United States,” Page said. “I showed up to the first meeting and I never left. My second year, I was captain of the Woodsman program. When I started the fall of 2014, it was mostly men, but by the time I graduated there were more women than men. I did a lot of recruiting.”
Page, who has a bachelor’s degree in forest operation and a minor in fire, was a two-time team captain of the Montana team.
The Montana Woodsman team cuts, splits and delivers firewood in the fall to pay for equipment and competitions.
“In the spring we traveled all over to compete,” Page said. “I cut 65 cords of wood my first year. I spent every weekend and after classes cutting firewood.”
Her hard work paid off.
“When I first started in 2014, I did a bunch of the other events, then the STIHL series opened up for women in 2017,” Page said. “The men have been doing it since 1980. We have had some great athletes in this sport.”
Page also had the opportunity in April 2019 to compete internationally at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, Australia.
Sport is not easy, or cheap
In the series, the men compete in six events, while the women have four — the single buck, standing block chop, underhand chop and stock saw. Every event is based on time.
“It’s 50% skill and 50% equipment,” said Page, whose favorite event is the single buck. “Everyone has different equipment, so if you have the best tools and the best sharpeners, you might have better times. Most of our axes come from Australia or New Zealand, and the cross-cut saws are made in New Zealand, New York or California.”
Competitors shell out $300 to $500 for an ax, while the cross-cut saws cost $1,800 to $2,300.
In the single buck, competitors make one cut through 19 inches of white pine using a single man cross-cut saw. The piece they cut off is roughly 3 inches thick.
The standing block chop event has the competitor racing to chop through 12 to 14 inches of vertical white pine.
The stock saw event is a test of operator ability. The competitor uses an STIHL MS 661 chainsaw to cut two discs from a 16-inch piece of white pine as fast as possible. All logs have been cut from the same tree. The only thing that differs is the saw operator.
“In the stock saw, we all use the same thing,” Page said. “It’s the most fair tool that we use. The show provides them, they have mechanics who maintain them.”
The underhand chop requires competitors to stand on a white pine log with feet 12-14 inches apart. They chop through the log with their racing ax.
The U.S. Championships offer prize money per event and for the overall winner, and have major sponsors, such as Duluth Trading Co., STIHL, John Deere and Ace Hardware.
The U.S. Championships will be livestreamed on Facebook, and all of the competitions will air on CBS Sports in the fall.