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Skiing the extra mile

5/15/2009

The sound of snow crunching beneath skis as they slide gracefully across a winter landscape. The creak of logs spinning and whirling in water as metal spikes pound their surface.

The two couldn't be further apart — unless you're boom runner and log roller extraordinaire Taylor Duffy, that is. For Duffy, who grew up in Hayward, Wisc. — home to many of the best lumberjack athletes in the world and some of the best cross country skiers — the two sports are symbiotic counterparts in her quest for athletic glory.

Duffy, who has long been considered one of the top female athletes in boom running and log rolling and who won her first world championship at age 15, only clicked into her first pair of skis three years ago. The late start was quickly rendered irrelevant though, as are most athletic pursuits Duffy undertakes.

"I'm one of those people that has to be good at everything that they do ... and the first time that I did it I couldn't even stand up," Duffy says. "I was falling all over the place, and it just got me motivated to want to do it. And within two days of that I was skiing like I had been skiing for years."

Duffy, who played basketball in college before blowing out both knees, took up cross country skiing after a chance meeting with her future coach at a coffee shop where she worked. Tim Swift, a professional cyclist for 13 years before moving to the Hayward area to open a ski and bicycle shop, saw her potential immediately.

"The lumberjack sports are very much becoming a real sport now, and they need training instead of just technique," Swift says. "So she wanted to get better, and the way to get better is to do some endurance work. And that's when we started talking about cross country skiing for her."

Duffy says she quickly realized that not only could cross country skiing help her pass the long winter months in Wisconsin, it could also help her increase her strength and speed come summer, when timbersports are in season. And for the defending STIHL TIMBERSPORTS boom running champion, the additional training was invaluable.

"It's a great sport to do to cross train for log rolling," Duffy says. "When you think about it, when you're on those two skis and going back and forth, you need a lot of balance and you're using your legs. Just the leg work and the balance and the endurance ... since it's hard to log roll here in wintertime this is a great opportunity to stay in shape until I can get on a log."

Swift says, "Log rolling takes a lot of balance, and she just needed to incorporate balance and her technique into fitness, because the sport is getting to the point where they need to be in shape — not just be fun and know how to do it."

With Swift's guidance, Duffy has now skied the legendary American Birkebeiner race twice, dropping her time by more than two hours this year. The Birkie, as it is commonly referred to, brings approximately 7,000 people from around the world to Hayward each February to ski the grueling 51 kilometer (34 miles) trail.

For Duffy, finishing the race was only the start to her skiing aspirations.

"It was a really big accomplishment to start way back in one of the last waves, and the trails get really bad because thousands of people have skied over them already and you're skiing with inexperienced people," she says. "So I was still happy that I took two hours off my time, and we'll see where that goes from there."

But with the weather now warming in Wisconsin and the snow all but gone, Duffy's attention is re-focused on boom running and log rolling. Her first day back on a log was April 30, and she has begun incorporating mountain biking and running into her workout regime to fill the void left by skiing.

She lists defending her gold medal in boom running in June at the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS championship in Columbus, Ga., as a high priority, but she also hopes to reclaim her world champion log rolling title after finishing third last year.

Her coach, for one, thinks those goals are easily within reach.

"She's hitting her prime now," Swift says. "She was world champion at age 15 and now she's 26 and she's kind of just hitting her stride. Now she's more mature and understands if she could just take it up a notch physically, she could be so much better. That's why it was so easy for me to keep her in check with skiing all winter long — she's very driven, and obviously she wants to get better."

Duffy's training regimen will be put to the test come June 5-6 when she competes in the first round of the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series boom running event in Lehi, Utah. A solid finish there will propel her to the championships later that month, and hopefully provide the kick start to her summer of log rolling and boom running around the world.

No matter the outcome, Duffy says her newfound year-round training regime is worth it.

"Some people don't understand it because, I guess, people think that log rolling is a weird sport," she says. "But the people that are in it take it very seriously. It's hard sometimes — I don't have a normal life whatsoever."