Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 81 - Logrolling

I have never tried logrolling. To clarify, I have never tried the sport of running on a log suspended in water with the goal of staying balanced and dry as long as possible. Growing up in Wisconsin, the sport of logrolling has never been that unfamiliar. While seeing the sport in person has been infrequent during my first 30 years, it was not uncommon to see logrolling events on television or in newspapers growing up. As someone that was always intrigued by the events, I figured it would be fun to try some day. I didn’t know how or when such and opportunity would come my way, but I knew I would try log rolling if ever given the chance. Fortunately, that chance recently came along when I learned Madison was home to a logrolling world champion, Shana Martin, who happened to give logrolling lessons during the summer months. As a result, I found a gap in my “I have never...” schedule and booked a lesson as soon as I could. With the lesson scheduled for tonight, I geared up for the water and made my way to the logrolling session at Lake Wingra this evening.

A night on the lake
Upon arriving at the lakeside park where the logrolling sessions are held, I made my way along the shore looking for any indication I was in the correct place. My eyes were immediately drawn to a flurry of activity in the water near the far side of the park. There a small group of kids were splashing into the water after climbing onto brightly painted objects floating in the water. As I continued toward the area it quickly became apparent the objects were variably sized painted logs floating in the water for the intended purpose of logrolling. As a result, I walked over to a picnic table nearest the logs and took a seat. Around me a small group of adults in workout gear looked on as the kids played, chatting in small groups as their eyes turned to and from the water. I sat for a few minutes, observing the logs rolling to and fro in the water before a petite blonde woman approached the picnic table.

As I turned to greet her I took notice of the woman’s obvious signs of strength and her lumberjack games sponsored apparel. Assuming the woman was likely Shana, I promptly introduced myself and asked a few questions about the logrolling class. After introducing herself, Shana gave me a quick breakdown of the forth coming class, checked the tread on my shoes for safety, and excitedly stated I wouldn’t regret the experience. With some preliminary information out of the way, Shana made a few remarks to the groups of adults around me before yelling down to the water. “Alright, kids! I know you’re having a blast, but everybody out! It’s time for the adult logrolling class to start!” Shana bellowed from her position at the table. Following her instruction, the children immediately started filing out of the water, leaving behind a grouping of logs floating in the water. With the logrolling area cleared, Shana turned her attention to the crowd around the table. “Alright, adults! Everybody in! It’s time for the adult logrolling class to start!” she called out enthusiastically to a round of chuckles from the nearby groups. On Shana’s cue, each of us in the group made our way to the shore and start hopping in the shin deep water. Realizing I was moments away from my first logrolling experience, I followed suit, wading into the water and approaching a nearby log. I still didn’t know how I was going to make the process work, but I was more than ready to give logrolling a try for the first time.

Finding the center
With all of the students in the water, Shana and her fellow instructors joined the group, taking positions near the end of three different logs. Given I was the only first time student, Shana quickly informed me her and the other instructors would hold the log for me as I climbed from the water and found my balance. She continued, stating I could go to any log I chose, explaining their variations in color signified the thickness and speed of the log in the water. Acknowledging her remarks, I told her I would start with the log closest to me first and go from there. In response, Shana smiled and quickly fired back, “Good. That’s my log.” Feeling comfortable with Shana’s direction and assistance, I took a few steps back from the log and let the other students in the area form a line in front of me. Although I was ready to try the logrolling experience, I wanted to see the process before I was ready to give it a go.

Over the next few minutes I watched on as the small line of students at the base of Shana’s log each took two turns climbing onto a strip of carpet wrapped around either end of the log and spinning with their feet for as long as possible. Their times ranged from a few seconds to nearly 10, which seems brief in statement but appeared long in person. With the rest of the line finished with their first attempts, I approached the end of the log nearest Shana. She responded by giving me some encouraging words and a few final pointers. Then, right before I attempted to climb the log for the first time she gave one last remark in a jesting tone. “Remember, this first time is about getting up there, falling off, and letting us laugh at you.” Accepting the rookie ribbing, I laughed and took my position near one of the pieces of carpet tacked to the log. With a quick deep breath, I placed my hands on the log as Shana’s instruction and prepared to leap out of the water and find my balance on the floating piece of wood.

I looked down at the segment of log between my hands trying to determine the exact point to land my feet after I broke the water’s surface. Shana was quick to coach me on my approach, stating I would be better able to maintain my position on the log by fixing my eyes at the opposite end of the log. Although the feeling of averting my eyes from the space in front of me caused some fear of missing the log completely, I followed Shana’s advice before springing skyward. My eyes still fixed on the end of the log, I felt my feet break the water and land sudden on the surface of the jostling log. In a split second I was positioned over the center of the log and locked in a perfectly balanced position. Still holding the end of the log, Shana continued her instruction. “Keep looking at the end of the log and march in place. Don’t move forward or backward. Just march as fast as you can.” She said calmly. In turn, I began chopping my feet up and down as fast as I could, which forced the log into a rocking motion on the water’s surface. “Good,” Shana said in response to my movement. “Now you’re ready to roll,” she continued as she let go of the log and stepped back.

In a moment the log freed and began spinning slowly under my feet. I struggled to keep my eyes fixed on the end of the log at the feeling of the movement, which caused small movements through my torso and arms. As a result, the log’s pace began quickening under my feet, making it nearly impossible to keep my march on center. In turn, I felt the weight of my body shift with the surface of the turning log, which sent me falling to the water. With a splash I landed off balance, forcing me to drop my feet back to prevent a fall into the lake. Quickly regaining my balance I looked back up at Shana and the rest of the group still waiting in line. “Way to go! Two seconds!” Shana said looking at her stopwatch. I coked my head in response to her call. After what felt like nearly a quarter of a minute struggling to keep balance on the log I had fallen to the water in two seconds. Two.

Giving it my all
Undeterred by my first brief experience logrolling, I took my position next to the log once more and prepared to take my logrolling position. Shana gave me a quick reminder on my stance, sight, and footwork as I forced my way out of the water and back on the log. As previously instructed, I began marching again, my feet moving fast on the wood beneath me. In response, Shana released the log again, which sent me into the familiar struggle of balance and momentum I felt moments earlier. Just as I got started again, I felt the log spin and shift, which sent me back to the lake again. “1.5. You’ll get there,” Shana called out as I landed. “Man, that’s tough!” I said in response as I worked my way to the back of the line. Sure, I was logrolling for the first time, but it was owning me.

Taking a fall
Over the next 45 minutes I kept working on my positioning and technique with each set of turns I was presented. Shana consistently offered me encouraging words and pointers as I tried, which provided insight and made the process easier with each attempt. While most of my remaining attempts at logrolling were about on par with my first two times, I incrementally improved as the evening wore on. With encouragement from Shana and my fellow students, I worked on form and rotation changes until my comfort and skill improved. Then, in one focused moment I gave it my all, marching, spinning, and guiding the log with my feet. For a split second, I felt in control and capable. With my weight shifting and the log reversing course, I kept after the goal, doing my best to remember Shana’s advice. Eventually, my effort resulted in the familiar, watery ending, but I knew I had put in a good effort. Knee deep in water, I looked up at Shana who turned the stopwatch toward my face and smiled. “5.2 seconds!” she exclaimed as I found my center of balance on the lakebed. The announcement caused warm cheers from my group and more encouragement from Shana. “Feel good. Five seconds is hard for a newby to do!” she said as I found my way to the back of the line again. It was brief, but those five seconds I was truly logrolling and it felt great.

The logrolling team
By the end of the class I had made progress to the point I was climbing on the log without out Shana's assistance in stabilization. Although my times remained low, I was finding the process easier, and I was getting one hell of a workout. With the sun setting into a cool summer night, Shana eventually called the group together for a photo before wrapping up the evening class. I said my goodbyes to the logrolling crew and thanked Shana for the experience before starting the walk back to my car. As I walked I recalled my experience. Thanks to my “I have never...” journey I had just had a blast taking a logrolling class from a world champion logroller. “How many people can say that?” I thought as I continued toward my car. The answer came easy to my mind, “Not many... and they probably have no idea what they’re missing.”

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