Sports

Busted, but not broken

Before her tumble on the pole climb, Valerie Brown shows good form in the ax throw at the Island County Fair. - Matt Johnson
Before her tumble on the pole climb, Valerie Brown shows good form in the ax throw at the Island County Fair.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Last year, Valerie Brown proved herself to be one of the fastest folks around a log at the Bunyon Busters Log Show at the Island County Fair. By climbing a pole, swinging an ax and running a saw, she earned more points than anyone in the show, including veterans Don Campbell and Albert Gabelein.

For that, they called her "winner."

On Sunday, Brown won the women's division of the show. But no one will remember her 2002 appearance for that. It was in the pole climb where she made a lasting impression -- in the sawdust, that is. After clocking the fastest time in the 25-foot climb, Brown slipped and fell the distance she had just scaled.

Miraculously unhurt after dropping into a thick pile of sawdust at the bottom of the pile, she learned she had just beaten Jim Scriven's unofficial fall record in the event by several feet.

For that, they now call her "Freefall."

"Anybody can just come down slow," said Brown with a forced smile as she regained her composure after her tumble.

Though the mishap was the most memorable moment in an event that otherwise ran smoothly, the Bunyon Busters managed to hold the attention of a large audience in the arena for most of the afternoon. The show is a revival of sorts these days, a revival of old-time logging skills that go almost unused on an island where being a logger is a rarer thing every year.

Though most competitors in the show were not professional tree cutters, they learned quickly. In the ax throw, an event in which competitors throw a specially balanced ax at a target for points, Jesse Keck was the most accurate. It was an unexpected showing, considering he had never picked up a throwing ax before.

"You just gotta be steady," he said.

Steady went for 9-year-old Guy O'Connor as well. After watching the log show at the 2001 fair, he spent most of the intervening year dreaming about doing the pole climb. In the 10-foot kid's competition, he lived that dream, making the distance without mishap and with enough speed to place fourth.

"I've been thinking about it for over a year," he said. "I just really wanted to."

The biggest crowd pleaser at the show was the Hot Saws competition, an event in which log cutters from around the region squared off to find out who could put the most power behind a chainsaw blade. Challenged with a log measuring about 4 feet in diameter, competitors showed up with custom saws boasting more horsepower than the average sports car. One entry -- named Predator -- was powered by a V8 Buick car engine. It and a half-dozen other similarly powered entries made the fair arena sound like a stock car race.

The Hot Saws event did not count toward the log show's overall championship. Winning that was Don Campbell, who was an event winner in the 70-foot speed climb and power saw bucking.

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