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Waibel ranks with giants of lumberjacking

West Linn ax man has won many championships and kept all of his toes
by: VERN UYETAKE, Rob Waibel of West Linn has won many championships in lumberjack events.

Rob Waibel is a lumberjack and he is a lot more than OK.

In fact, he is great.

The West Linn resident was inducted into the inaugural class of the Lumberjack Hall of Fame, and when it comes to all-around lumberjacking skills, Waibel is unquestionably the best. He has won the Iron Jack championship an incredible nine times in his career. The Iron Jack is sort a combination of a decathlon and marathon, consisting of 10 events. That's a lot of chopping, sawing and leaping around.

So, why is Waibel so good?

"I still haven't figured out which event I like the best. I like them all. I'm usually in more events than anyone else at a competition," he explained.

Waibel has achieved this success despite being undersized for a lumberjack. He is a well-muscled but compact 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds.

"Most lumberjacks are over 6 feet tall and weigh over 250 pounds," Waibel said. "I often give up 100 pounds to another guy."

He also gives up a few years. At age 46, Waibel is a senior member of the lumberjacking circuit.

Waibel has nothing to prove. He recently visited his plaque at the Lumberjack Hall of Fame in Pigeon Ford, Tenn., hometown of famed country singer Dolly Parton, which also "a huge tourist trap."

"I didn't think it was that big a deal," Waibel said. "But when people find out that you're in a hall of fame, they get really impressed."

You might think Waibel would be tempted to sit back and watch younger, bigger lumberjacks do all of the work. He has a personality made for the media and could be the Charles Barkley of lumberjack television commentary for competitions shown on ESPN. But you couldn't be more wrong. Waibel's heart for lumberjacking is as big as ever.

"It's a very fun lifestyle," he said. "You can make a little money at it (Waibel has won as much as $20,000 for winning a championship). The competitions are always held in beautiful places. You get to travel, and it's fun to get attention. Another thing is that lumberjacks are the nicest, friendliest people you will ever meet."

One more notable thing about Waibel: he has all of his toes.

"There are a lot of nine-toed lumberjacks out there," Waibel said. "I've got 10. But I do have some serious scars."

Waibel was practically born with an ax in his crib, growing up in the lumberjacking hotbed of Sweet Home, Ore. His dad and grandfather were lumberjacks, and young Rob soon got into the swing of things. The future hall-of-famer won his first championship at the age of 13.

He moved to West Linn in 1991 and since then has become sort of the godfather of lumberjacking for this area. He coaches a youth lumberjack team, which competes against other teams, "urban kids against little logging towns."

When he is not using an ax or saw, Waibel strives for a normal life as a husband, father, teacher and coach. He teaches forestry and environmental science in the North Clackamas School District. Somehow he is able to squeeze in the time to help coach the West Linn High School girls lacrosse team, which just took second at the state championships.

Being so devoted to lumberjacking does make it difficult for Waibel to keep his life in balance.

"Life gets so busy," he said. "The hardest struggle is to keep everything in perspective. It's sort of like being an elite amateur athlete. You're always trying to have time for your family in this all-encompassing sport."

Still, this is the only real objection Waibel has to the lumberjack life.

His wife Shannon sometimes teams up with her hubby in "Jack and Jill" competitions and is the hostess for the lumberjacking contest held yearly at the West Linn Old Time Fair. Their son, Xander, who just turned 23, recently won his first world lumberjacking championship. This chip off the old block is a superb athlete who shines at events requiring agility and speed. Then there is their 15-year-old daughter, Emma, who is a cheerleader and lacrosse player at West Linn High but not yet a lumberjack.

"She's too busy being a teenager now," Waibel said. "But I know she wants to do it."

Being a lumberjack sends Waibel as far away as New Zealand and Australia, and that takes away from his time at home.

But how can his family deny dad is fun? Not when he can go on the Conan O'Brien Show and help the zany host completely chop up his set.

Will Rob Waibel go on being a lumberjack forever? He is giving it consideration.

"Originally I thought I would quit when I turned 50 years old," he said. "But I thought as long as I was having fun and not embarrassing myself and was doing well, why not keep going?"

No reason. Keep on chopping, Rob.

Lumbjacking fans can catch Waibel in action as he competes in the STIHL, a premier chainsaw company, championship lumberjacking series being televised on ESPN.