The starter shouted, "Go!" and eight-year-old Cassidy Scheer took three swings at his log, breaking it in half, and then raised his hands in victory.
The crowd at the Scheer Lumberjack Show in Hayward, Wis., cheered enthusiastically, amused at the site of the skinny, tow-headed kid who was a miniature version of his competitors on stage. He was dwarfed by the line of burly lumberjacks and holding a hatchet instead of an ax. The block of wood he cut in the underhand chop was half the size of the others and nearly chopped through before he even started.
"I used to set up a little bitty lumberjack show for him in the back," said Fred Scheer, Cassidy's father and owner of the Scheer Lumberjack Show in Hayward.
"We had the whole show. He had everything set up to where he could go back and do his 'mumber' show at the time he couldn't say lumberjack."
Cassidy Scheer grew up in Hayward, Wis., in the heart of lumberjack country. Home to the Lumberjack World Championships for 50 years, Hayward is imbued with lumberjack culture, and Cassidy's father, Fred, and uncle, Rob Scheer, world champions themselves, capitalized on and worked to increase the popularity of lumberjack sports through their lumberjack show.
"It's theater living history theater is what it is," said Rob Scheer, who runs a separate branch of the Scheer lumberjack empire in Alaska. He provides a forum for people to be entertained, but to him, it's more than that.
"Kids like it because they're seeing bigger-than-life characters. Old-timers like it because they can relate to the history. And anybody that has not seen an ax slam into a block or a guy climb a sixty-foot pole is impressed regardless."
Born in the same year that the show started, Cassidy grew up surrounded by these larger-than-life characters, and he was impressed. He was log rolling by the age of five, and by the time he was 10 Cassidy was a part of the show and began to compete seriously in his mid-teens.
"He won the world championship of the boom run in Hayward, our home town, when he was like 17," Fred Scheer remembered. "And that's an event that I had also won the world championship in several times, so that was pretty exciting to have Cassidy win it."
Cassidy also went on to win an event called the Superjack that is the equivalent of a decathlon in track and field, and encompasses several of the competitive lumberjack events. Scheer won the event at the sixth incarnation of ESPN's Great Outdoor Games, which his uncle helped promote.
"They were a really well-established batch of guys," Fred Scheer said, remembering one of his favorite moments in his son's career. "They were guys that had been perennially winning these events and in a fairly dominating fashion."
Scheer competed against the greats of the sport in the event names like Rob Weibel, Wade Stewart, and Justin Beckwith but managed to edge out Weibel by the slimmest of margins.
Since his win in the Great Outdoor Games, Scheer has gone on to win the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS speed climb final twice, and continues to enjoy competing in lumberjack sports, but Scheer has also taken on a new challenge outside the world of lumberjack sports way outside, in fact.
"Yeah, it's ironic," Scheer said. "Lumberjack sports came out of a logging tradition, and that hasn't always been the most ecologically viable practice."
Cassidy Scheer, the lumberjack athlete, now manages a property in Costa Rica called Sierpe del Pacifico (www.sierpedelpacifico.com) where it's "strictly prohibited" to cut down trees. Set just north of the protected Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Sierpe del Pacifico's website describes the property's commitment to "low impact" and "earth friendly" development.
"I won't say that we've never cut down a tree there," Scheer said. "But, the trees that we have removed have been either leaning on a structure or maybe threatening to fall over and were removed for people's safety."
A large swath of coastal jungle in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica that National Geographic has called "one of the most biodiverse places on earth," the Osa Peninsula has very strict regulations for development, and, according to Fred Scheer, Cassidy has done a remarkably good job of navigating the complexities of international business dealings.
"He speaks the language," he said, "understands the nuance of doing business in Latin America and has become a charter-captain caliber fisherman."
In order for Cassidy Scheer to reconcile his love for lumberjack events and sport fishing with managing an environmentally-friendly business, he adopts a pragmatic approach and chooses his words carefully and with near political precision, preferring certain buzz-words over others.
"I try to avoid using the term sustainability," Scheer said. "I don't know that something can be truly sustainable where there's human activity. I prefer the term low-impact."
Scheer's list of pro-environment measures taken at his development is lengthy. They are off the grid and use solar power. They grow some of their own food. The property is only accessible by boat, meaning no cars are emitting exhaust fumes for miles in any direction. And, he said, his fishing has a negligible impact on the population of the area's fisheries.
With the restrictions on cutting down trees, it is difficult for Scheer to train for his speed climbing events in which he has to skyrocket up 60 or 90-foot poles in a traditional way, but, again, he has tackled the difficulty head-on.
"Obviously, I can't climb trees when I'm in Sierpe because I don't want to damage them," Scheer said. "But I have a training routine that keeps me in shape."
Scheer uses plyometrics, an exercise that focuses on explosive movements in order to develop power, but admitted that it takes a certain amount of time on the pole to get his form back. As evidence of this statement, at the first STIHL TIMBERSPORTS competition of the year in Lehi, Utah, Scheer put a deep gash in his leg after an awkward descent in a quarter-final race.
Ultimately, Scheer said the benefits of leading a dual life far outweigh the drawbacks of limited training, a difficult travel schedule and a Central American climate that is a near polar opposite to that of his home in Wisconsin. And that fortitude and stubborn will to overcome challenges speaks to something that, according to his father, has been present in Scheer since he was a small boy.
"When we would be going off to get the chopping blocks for the show, we'd always have to find a little block for Cass," Fred Scheer said.
"I'd set that block up and Cass would pound, and I mean pound, his way through that block. It'd probably take him an hour and he'd often times end up with blisters on his hand, but by God he'd get through that block."