Quebec lumberjill fells the competition, takes top honours at national contest
24-year-old McGill student wins national lumberjack championship, comes in 2nd at international event
Quebecer Stéphanie Bélanger-Naud was all smiles when she stepped onto the centre podium, was handed her trophy, and showered in sparkling wine after winning this year's STIHL Timbersports Women's Pro Canadian Championship.
The 24-year-old master's student is the country's best female lumberjack — or lumberjill — having chopped and sawed her way to the top at last month's national championships in Mississauga, Ont.
The annual STIHL Timbersports championships bring competitors from across the country test their skills in six intense lumberjack-style skills, from block chops to chainsawing to axe throwing.
"It was a very good feeling," Bélanger-Naud said. "I was very thankful to be there."
Bélanger-Naud started practising wood chopping eight years ago when she started university, and she's been competing professionally for four years.
She grew up on a dairy farm in Brigham, in the Eastern Townships, and was an all-around athlete — playing volleyball and basketball in high school — but joining McGill's woodsmen team was her first foray into timbersports.
"You get a lot of adrenaline from it, it's a good way to pass your energy," said Bélanger-Naud, who also runs, bikes and swims to stay in shape.
"I started it and got the passion for it," Bélanger-Naud said. "It's a sport you can always get better at."
She said she appreciates that not only does the sport get her out of a gym and outside, she likes the technical aspect of it.
"My favourite is the underhand chop," she said. "It's an event where you simulate cutting down a tree in two while standing on it, so it's a horizontal log where you're standing on it and you chop in between your feet."
Prepare to be impressed: watch Stéphanie do the underhand chop:
Because of the adrenaline rush of competing and the use of power tools, Bélanger-Naud said it's critical to wear protective gear, like chain mail socks that protect her feet.
Success on the world stage
After the national competition last month, Bélanger-Naud headed to Hayward, Wis., to vie for international victory at the Lumberjack World Championships.
Despite the stress of being on the big stage, Bélanger-Naud came in second overall. She completed the underhand chop in 31 seconds.
"My mind was set to perform well," she said. "I got a little overexcited."
The six-foot-tall athlete said people are often surprised to hear she competes in timbersports, considering her build is not stereotypical for a lumberjack.
"When they see me they're impressed I do this sport because I'm tall and skinny, but it's a sport that needs a lot of agility," she said, adding there is a widespread misconception that someone needs big arms and a buff frame to excel in timbersports.
The animal sciences student at McGill University plans to take over the family dairy farm in the Eastern Townships after she graduates.