WATERVILLE — Will Reinsborough took a deep breath, then he took another. Reinsborough glanced at his feet, making sure he was lined up flush to the throwing line. He gripped the ax with both hands and raised it over his head. With one more deep breath, Reinsborough locked his eyes at the target 20 feet away, and threw.

“I’m basically trying to time my release. That’s essentially how you sync it into the target,” Reinsborough said a few minutes later.

The sport is ax throwing. It’s part of any woodsmen team competition, and Saturday, it was on display at Colby College, during the Colby College Woodsmen’s Team’s Mud Meet.

It’s darts, outside, with a two and a half pound dart that has two sharp blades rotating through 20 feet of air. It’s darts if an errant dart could cleave your hand off.

“For me, it’s the mental game. A lot of woodsmen events you really just power through them. With ax throw, you don’t need to be like a 7-foot tall, 300-pound guy to get through it,” Colby junior Sydney Greenlee said. “It’s really just getting the exact same motion every single time. Being in tune with your body and your mind.”

Greenlee paused, then laughed to underscore the simple joy of the sport.

“Plus, it’s throwing axes,” she said.

It takes concentration to throw an ax well. Thirty feet to the left of the throwing area, chainsaws whined. Fifty feet directly behind the throwers, people cheered on athletes taking part in the pole climb. It’s loud, but you have to be able to block it all out and throw this thing, top-heavy with a 2.5-pound double-sided head, straight.

When it’s thrown well, the ax’s trajectory is tight. There’s little to no arc, and it makes a straight line to the target, a bullseye painted on to a thick circle of wood. At the Colby throwing area, there’s a strong before and after display. On the left, Saturday’s target, freshly painted and mounted. To the right, a target that’s been well-used. The red rings surrounding the center were faded. Chunks of the target have been carved off, so it looks as if a bear clawed it.

The targets are mounted on a wooden wall that looks like either the beginning or remains of a log cabin. Some throwers released their ax too high, sending it over the wall. Some waited too long, causing the ax to drop like a 59-foot curve ball in the dirt.

Reinsborough held his hand in front of his face, about eyebrow high, to show where he wants to release the ax.

“That gets this ax started to go in the right rotation before it hits the target. You want the head out front,” he said.

Most of the athletes on woodsmen’s team pick up the sport when they get to college. In that regard, Deven Maroney of the University of Maine team had a head start in ax throwing. He threw tomahawks at a Boy Scout camp years ago. Ax throwing is like any athletic skill, Maroney said. It takes practice.

“You want a loose grip, sort of like when you cast a fishing rod. It’s just a lot of adjustment and trial and error,” Maroney said.

Mike Chambers of the University of Vermont steps to the line before he throws, then he steps back and adjusts his grip, right hand higher on the handle. He takes another step back and steps into his throws. Chambers’ first throw is a perfect bullseye.

“For me, I have a very set step pattern,” Chambers said.

For Chambers, that ritual is more important than the ax. Some golfers are very particular about their clubs, and baseball players have specific requirements of their bats. For Chambers, one throwing ax is just as good as another.

“I’m more particular with my chopping axes. These (throwing) don’t need to be as sharp. They’re going to stay in the target if you throw it right,” Chambers said. “I guess I prefer a thinner end because it slides out my hands easier.”

Greenlee’s throwing ax has a name, written just below its’ head. It’s Chuck, she said, she guesses, because you chuck it. Greenlee didn’t name the ax, but said Chuck is the best throwing ax in the Colby Woodsmen’s Team’s arsenal.

“I really like the wood handles. We had a couple with fiberglass handles, but I didn’t really like that. It’s slippery and kind of weighted different,” Greenlee said. “It took me a very long time to get consistent at it. I’m a junior, and this is the event I practice the most. It was probably a couple months to get pretty good at it.”

“At Unity we have five or six throwing axes, so it gets to the point you pick the one you like and start throwing it,” Reinsborough said. “Actually, I just started throwing this one, because the other one I was used to has a broken handle.”

Competitors Saturday were allowed no practice throws. You got five tries, and the best four counted toward your score. It’s hard, even for a good ax thrower. Greenlee didn’t feel she did her best. Neither did Reinsborough. The president of Unity College’s team, Reinsborough said he practices woodmen team skills two hours per day, four days per week, year-round.

“I wish it would show today, that I practice more,” he said.

Saturday, Reinsborough managed one bullseye, when the blade of his ax caught the corner of the center dot. The throws that catch the outer rings of the target, or miss it completely, those are forgotten. The bullseyes, that’s what keeps him coming back. That’s what makes him take another deep breath, and throw again.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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