Members of the Catholic Chapel Youth Group had the chance to give the century-old art of birling, or log rolling, a try at the Dodge Fitness Center pool Jan. 14.
During the logging boom of the late 1800s, America’s immense river systems were often the only way to get timber from its remote growing areas to the lumber mills where it could be turned into much needed materials to help build a growing country.
During the spring months flotillas of thousands of logs coming down the country’s intricate river systems would often cause jams. Men, known as loggers, were hired to keep that flotilla moving. Their dangerous working entailed deftly running from riverbank to riverbank across the moving logs freeing up any that became snagged along the way.
In their down time, the loggers would challenge each other to see who could stay atop a spinning log the longest and not get thrown into the water, and thus was born the sport of log rolling.
During the off-season summer months, competing lumber companies sponsored log rolling competitions sending their best rollers to uphold the company’s name. The first unofficial log rolling world championship took place in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1898 where Tom Fleming of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, took top honors.
Fast forward to today and the favorite sport of the American lumberjack is finding a renewed interest in aquatic programs across the country.
When Kaley Bartosik, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Outdoor Recreation program coordinator, attended a programmer’s course last year she was introduced to the sport and immediately saw the opportunity to extend the Outdoor Rec aquatic program year round.
Bartosik then attended a training seminar with world champion log roller and co-founder of the company Key Log Rolling, Abbey Hoeschler where she learned how addictive the sport can be and wanted to bring it to the Wright-Patt community.
Traditionally, log rolling is done on 500-pound cedar logs wearing spiked shoes. A key factor to the recent growing popularity of the sport was when Hoeschler teamed up with some engineers and together developed a portable synthetic log. Now the sport can be enjoyed in virtually any body of water even as shallow as two and half feet making it accessible to non-swimmers as well.
Unfilled, the Key Log weighs in at 65 pounds and can be transported on top of a car similar to a kayak. Once on location, the log can be easily filled with about 50 gallons of water to its active weight of 450 pounds. When ready to leave, the log can be drained in around five minutes.
“We were able to purchase a couple of Key Logs for our program here at Wright-Patt and began offering classes in the Dodge Gym pool just before the holidays,” said Bartosik. “Not only is it fun, but log rolling is actually a really good workout. It’s an aerobic activity that works the core muscle groups, and it helps build balance and agility, too.”
She plans to take the logs outside once the weather gets warmer and even take them on excursions to area lakes and rivers throughout the year.
When Hannah Wegner, Catholic Chapel Youth Group director, learned about the log rolling classes, she was excited to offer the opportunity to the kids in her group. Wegner then coordinated with Bartosik for an afternoon in the pool learning to log roll.
Though sponsored by the Catholic Chapel, the youth group is open to all middle and high schoolers ages 12-18.
“Our group strives to help the military youth in our community meet and socialize with other youth in a safe and nurturing environment. Our kids have the opportunity to explore and serve both the military community and the surrounding areas off base to help them better develop an appreciation for what the area has to offer,” said Wegner.
Besides learning to log roll, Wegner said that upcoming group offerings include a video game night competition, stand-up paddle boarding, local area hikes, serving in the parks department to help maintain community gardens, attending the Steubenville Youth Conference, as well as other volunteer opportunities.
“Our youth are very passionate about getting out in the community, and they have great ideas about ways to help in the future,” said Wegner.
Joy Ojala, 15, and Dixie Champagne, 17, were two of the participants in the log rolling event.
“This event sounded like a lot of fun,” said Ojala. “I’ve never had the opportunity to do anything like this before.”
“This was a great bonding experience for our group,” said Champagne. “It was a lot of fun watching everyone take on the challenge.”
Though neither knew what to expect, both girls said they did much better than they thought they would.
For those interested in giving the sport of birling a try then there are several more sessions scheduled at the Dodge pool. Sign up for them by visiting Outdoor Rec in Bldg. 95 in Area A.
For more information on this and other Outdoor Recreation programs, visit facebook.com/WPOutdoorRec.