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Belle of the Woods

4/28/2008

MISSOULA, Mont. — Nichole Bonnema was not just nervous, but visibly nervous as she prepped her chunk of white pine just after sunrise the morning of the Western Conclave STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge.

Speaking to a local television reporter, forehead peppered with tiny beads of sweat, she held the microphone, answering any and all questions put to her — the only female competitor of the 2008 Collegiate Challenge season — and stated what she wanted out of the day: "I just want to beat one guy in one single competition."

It didn't happen, but it didn't seem to bother her either — at least not after the event was over. She sheepishly admitted that being friends with a number of the competitors from California, they'd all gone out the night before, as none could sleep, due to nerves.

"I was freaked out!" she said, laughing about her predicament. "We didn't even eat breakfast this morning. I had to choke down a granola bar, just because I knew I should."

Bonnema, a self described "bad asthmatic," even had to take a few hits off of her inhaler to calm down.

She had a few negative words about her own performance that day in the "triad of timber" competitions:

  • Single buck: "I got hung up on part of it."

  • Stock saw: "I cut too big of a cookie on the first pass and had to make up for it."

  • Underhand chop: "My chop was sloppy."

However, she had very positive things to say about the event overall and in particular the camaraderie.

Cheerful, energetic, and "a little tired," she played with a labrador retriever tied to a pickup truck moments after the competition, just happy to have finished — and glad she had an eighth-place finish in the stock saw event.

Bonnema, a senior at Cal-Poly, has been competing in the timber arena for the last three years; being introduced to the sport by her best friend, she soon joined the majority-female logging club.

"After I went to my first event, I was hooked. It got me!" Bonnema said with a grin on her face.

"What I like more than anything, more than even the competitions was the camaraderie. It doesn't matter if you're a guy or a girl. It's a guy sport, but if you're a girl wanting to get into a guy sport, this is the one to get into. The guys cheer me on. I'm not a guy, but I give it my all. Girls can do this, too."

Sports are in her blood: The agricultural marketing/business major has done stints playing rugby, soccer, basketball and participating in track and field. It extends to her father as well, who races NARC Series Sprint cars.

Having been around team sports and racing, she finds it's the resulting friendships an enormous reason to spend her time in the logging competitions — "TIMBERSPORTS is all about the people. My dad races cars and they're all a family. Crew, drivers, etc. The camaraderie is there, but this (TIMBERSPORTS) puts it all to shame."

Being the only female on this year's leg of collegiate competitions, she had these words to say to any budding women TIMBERSPORT-ers: "This is a man's sport, no doubt, but you can be a woman and compete in here. Luckily, men like women. You can't go wrong. It's a win-win situation."

The loudest cheers of the day were for Bonnema, who placed last in the field of 10 at the end of the festivities. But her placement in the standings had no effect on her wanting to continue in the sport, however, nor on her desire for more females to take an active role in logging clubs and competitions.

"My advice for women is to go to local competitions. Everyone is helpful. Go to the locals and get help. The ones who want to help are the true lumberjacks who do this for a living, and truly love the sport. They want to see it grow."

Her final take on the Western Conclave: "I feel like I did pretty good, and that I would stand up to the competitors."

She now returns to Cal Poly to finish up her degree, and hopes to move into "either an internship for a forestry company, or working at a lettuce farm, or maybe public relations. Who knows — it's all out there, isn't it?"

That said, she left to rejoin a group of friends, receiving multiple high-fives, hugs, and a place in the history books as the lone woman standing in the 2008 season.