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Believe what you saw

5/7/2009

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HANOVER, N.H. — In 2007, Sara Hutchins, then a freshman at Colby College in Maine, watched classmate and teammate Kate Braemer compete against the men in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge presented by Carhartt.

Two years later, it was Hutchins doing the chopping and sawing but the men were watching from behind the ropes as she competed in the inaugural STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge competition with a women's division.

"It was really a cool thing — Kate was just trying to get the word out there for women's chopping," Hutchins said. "I'm so proud that she did that, and now I was able to compete in the women's division."

Hutchins did more than show up to the West Conclave held on the campus of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, she won it. In the three events the women competed in — underhand chop, stock saw and single buck — Hutchins finished third, first, and fourth, respectively. It was enough to give her a one point victory over Megan Bujnowski, of the University of New Hampshire.

"I was surprised to win," Hutchins said after the event. "I just wanted to be consistent in every event."

All of the nine competitors were hoping to do well, but most of them seemed satisfied enough to just be a part of STIHL TIMBERSPORTS history. And none of the nine seemed intimidated by the fact that it's usually a man sawing the wood and swinging the ax.

"It's just you and the wood," Bujnowski said. "If it's something women enjoy, I don't think that it should hold them back that it's a male oriented sport. They should do what they want to do. You make life-long friends and it toughens you up."

Bujnowski got started in high school because her pet care teacher was also a forestry teacher. She chose to major in forestry at UNH and made the natural transition onto the woodsmen team. Most of her competitions before Saturday's have been against men, which is something she doesn't shy away from.

"I'm not going to lie, it's a male oriented sport and I like to prove myself," she said. "I've done a lot of national competitions. I like to go out there and compete with the boys and keep up with them."

Hutchins got started because she liked building fires. She joined the fire-building team when she was a freshman at Colby, but eventually started doing some chopping and sawing.

"The first chop I had in competition I was on a Jack and Jill team, and we were chopping 8 by 8, which is normally men's wood," Hutchins said. "I knew I wasn't going to win, so I just wanted to make a smooth chop.

"Afterward, my coach actually called it an, 'Excellent chop.' And he doesn't give compliments to anyone, so I thought, 'Yeah, I could be good at this.'"

Some of the women competing on Saturday, such as Kendra Trammel (Finger Lakes Community College), have a short history with lumberjack sports, but the significance of the event wasn't lost on anyone.

"I got to be the first female to represent Finger Lakes and that gives me the best feeling," said Trammel, who joined the team in January after she was convinced by her teammates during a camping trip to Alaska. "I mean, third isn't terrible, right? I can't wait to see the sport go further for women."

Trammel, who also barrel races and a coon hunts, said her new favorite sport has less to do with what's happening at the events and more to do with the people she's around.

"I love everything about it," Trammel said. "Everybody on the team is great. The sport is amazing, and I've never been able to experience something like this before. Women may not have as much force, but we definitely have as much fun."