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UW-Eau Claire Alumna Is World Champion
of Lumberjack Events

RELEASED: Jan. 31, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — At work Nancy Zalewski speedily cuts through delays, making sure production stays on schedule — just like she cut through a 20-inch-thick block of wood in 7.1 seconds to win the Jack and Jill crosscut competition at the July 2004 Lumberjack World Championship in Hayward.

Zalewski, a 1991 chemistry graduate of UW-Eau Claire who lives in Plymouth, is a production coordinator at Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Co., where she's worked for 13 years. She's also a world-class lumberjack competitor. She participates annually in dozens of lumberjack competitions nationally and internationally and is ranked No. 1 in the world in the Jack and Jill event and women's crosscut. She is ranked third in the underhand chop.

A native of Hayward, home to the Lumberjack World Championship competition, Zalewski grew up being exposed to the sport. Her mother ran the competition and her father was a timer for the events. Zalewski always attended the championship but got directly involved just eight years ago, when helping her mother plan the Hayward competition sparked her interest in the sport.

She decided to try her hand at competing so she approached lumberjack Mike Sullivan and asked if he would teach her to cut. Zalewski didn't realize it at the time, but she had made a good choice in teachers. Sullivan was a high-ranked competitor and was looking for a female partner for the Jack and Jill crosscut event. Zalewski learned quickly from Sullivan how to cut using the six-foot, two-person saw. She also learned to handle other saws and axes in a variety of lumberjack events.

"I was very fortunate to have such a good teacher," Zalewski said. "Most people have to learn from intermediate competitors so I had an advantage learning from the best."

Over the past five years Zalewski has competed often. She spends most weekends between Memorial Day through October at events across the United States and Canada. She will compete internationally in Australia at the Sidney Royal Easter Show as a member of the U.S. women's national team. This is only the second time women were allowed to participate in this international competition, she said.

Women have been involved in the sport for only about 20 years, Zalewski said. As a result, women often compete in men's events when there is no female division at a competition. Zalewski said it's difficult for women to compete with men because they lack the physical strength and speed of men. But her size (she's 5 feet 11 inches tall and a solid 210 pounds), combined with her strength, makes it possible for her to be competitive with men.

"I enjoy competing with men," Zalewski said. "I get beat a lot, but as long as I don't come in last I feel like I've done well. I can often beat the intermediate men competitors."

Zalewski was featured in a commercial for ESPN to promote the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. She serves as an adviser to a college lumberjack team at Oregon State University and is helping organize and will compete in a lumberjack competition in Menomonie on July 2.

Zalewski said she gets great satisfaction from being involved in the sport.

"I've formed so many friendships through competing," Zalewski said. "But the biggest draw for me is the thrill of competition. I love it."

-30-

KH/JB

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