This Woman Made a Name for Herself In the Male-Dominated World of Lumberjack Sports
Martha King is one of a handful of women who are professional wood chopping champions.
Martha King, a world-renowned lumberjill, considers herself a normal girl with an unusual hobby. The 28-year-old from Delaware County, PA, has dedicated most of her life to chopping, sawing, and chain-sawing wood at male-dominated lumberjack competitions around the globe. But breaking the mold has always been her thing.
"I've been told before that I-or women in general-shouldn't be chopping," she tells Shape. "Of course, that just makes me want to do it even more. I want to prove-I need to prove-that this is where I belong." (Related: 10 Strong, Powerful Women to Inspire Your Inner Badass)
Martha was introduced to wood chopping as a young girl. "My father is an arborist, and I grew up watching him from a very early age," she says. "I was always fascinated with his work and was eventually old enough to help. So I started by just dragging brush and then was trusted around a wood chopper." By the time she was an early teen, she was handling a chainsaw like it was "no big deal."
Fast forward a few years, and Martha was following in her father's footsteps and heading to Penn State for college. As a homebody, she was sad to leave her parents and farm behind, but she had one thing to look forward to: joining the university's Woodsmen Team.
"The tradition of wood chopping has been a way of life for my family," Martha says, who is also a brand ambassador for Armstrong Flooring. "The intensity and the danger of it, plus seeing pictures of my dad compete, all made me want to do the same." (Related: Wild Fitness Photos from the Scariest Places on Earth)
What does a wood chopping competition look like exactly? Tournaments are made up of several events based on traditional forestry practices-and women's capabilities are put to the test in three specific wood chopping disciplines.
The first is the Standing Block Chop: This mimics the motion of chopping down a tree and requires the competitor to chop through 12 inches of vertical white pine as fast as possible. Then there's the Single Buck that involves making a single cut through a 16-inch piece of white pine using a 6-foot-long saw.
Finally, there's the Underhand Chop, which requires you to stand with feet apart on a 12- to 14-inch log with the goal of chopping through it with a racing ax. "Basically, that's a 7-pound razor blade that I'm swinging between my feet," Martha says. "A lot of girls shy away from the underhand chop because it's so intimidating. But I always saw it as an opportunity to put myself out there and get ahead." Oh, and she's a world champion in this event. Watch her in action below.
Even after college, Martha was committed to the lumberjill life. After graduating, she moved to Germany to work on a farm to put her animal sciences degree to use as well as kick-start her professional lumberjill career. "I needed something to do there that made me feel like I was home," she said. "So along with tending to the farm, I started training and competed in my first world championships in Germany in 2013."
That year, Martha placed second overall. Since then, she's built an impressive résumé, setting two world records in the Underhand Chop and winning two world championships. She was part of Team USA when they won the international wood chopping team relay in Australia in 2015.
There's no denying that this unique sport challenges physical strength-something Martha does not credit to logging hours in the gym. "I don't know if I should be embarrassed or proud, but I don't go to the gym," Martha confessed. "I tried going once and just felt largely uninspired."
Most of her strength comes from her way of life. "Having a horse, I usually ride through the woods to get to the farm every day, spend a lot of time hauling buckets of water, handling animals, lifting heavy equipment, and am on my feet most of the time," she said. "Anytime I need to get from point A to point B, I always try to run, hop on my bike, or ride my horse, so I guess in some ways, my life is working out. Not to mention I'm competing 20 weeks out of the year." (Related: 4 Outdoor Exercises That Will Trump Your Gym Workout)
Of course, she practices her chopping skills a couple times a week. "I basically just try to chop three blocks and cut a wheel or two, three to four times a week," she says. "It's very sports specific."
Martha hopes that through this new campaign and by drawing attention to women in competitive wood chopping, she'll be able to inspire other girls. "I want you to know that they don't need to fit the mold," she says. "You don't have to be considered 'girly' as long as you are going out there and being who you are and doing the very best that you can do. No matter what you're doing in life, if you embrace the challenge, victory will come."