The sport of lumberjacks comes to College Park

Abby Hoeschler Delaney, a champion log-roller from a family of rollers in Wisconsin, brought the sport of lumberjacks into the natatorium at the University of Maryland on Saturday, the final stop in her fall campaign to market logs without splinters and one day make log-rolling an Olympic event.

Seventeen competitors from six universities took part in a College Park first — a log-rolling tournament. They did what rollers have done since the first lumberjacks squared off in a contest of agility, balance and fancy footwork: Two competitors at either end of a floating log spun it with their feet, varying speeds and direction, never taking their eyes off their opponent’s feet, until one of the rollers fell off.

But in Saturday’s event, no wood was involved.

Delaney is the 30-year-old co-founder of Key Log Rolling, the Minnesota-based developer of a 65-pound polyethylene replacement for the 500-pound cedar logs that have been used in rolling competitions in the Midwest for more than a century. (The company’s name is taken from an old logging term; the “key log” was the one that, once removed, would end a logjam in a river.)

Delaney’s innovation came from her desire to popularize a sport she loves, to see it move beyond its limited North American contest circuit.

“It’s a thrilling, exciting sport that requires a lot of agility, and I wanted more people to know about it,” she says.

And she believes the health benefits of log rolling would appeal to Americans looking for a new and challenging way to stay fit.

But to broaden the sport’s appeal, Delaney knew the wooden logs she had used since childhood — and all the way through her days in the pool at Middlebury College in Vermont — would not work: Log-rolling would never reach the roof racks of the fitness-conscious masses if it involved a 500-pound log 17 inches in diameter.

The portable Key Log, which sells for $2,300, is about 12 feet long, with a 15-inch diameter. It comes with trainers that can be attached to slow and stabilize the logs as beginners get their feet.

Delaney says that once in the water, and filled with water, a Key Log works the same as the traditional cedar logs she has been rolling since she was 4 years old — an engineering accomplishment that shocked her when she first test-rolled a prototype in 2011.

On the market for five years now, Key Logs have been sold to recreation centers, summer camps, military bases and to more than 100 colleges, the University of Maryland among them.

To promote the sport on campuses, Key Log Rollers sponsored three collegiate tournaments — in September at the University of Missouri, in October at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and the final one, at Eppley Recreation Center in College Park.

The marketing strategy: Sell the Key Logs to colleges, create a buzz with tournaments and maybe log-rolling becomes a club sport, as it did at Middlebury when Delaney and her sisters, Katie and Elizabeth, were students there.

Delaney has sold Key Logs in Europe, and her big hope is to see log-rolling be recognized one day as an official sport by the International Olympic Committee. “I’m dedicated to that,” she says. “I want it to be something more. It deserves a bigger legacy.”

drodricks@baltsun.com

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