In an ordinary year, Matt Cogar would be traveling the country and going overseas to compete in woodchopping events.
But this is no ordinary year.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, event after event is being canceled or postponed. For Cogar, it’s a blow on several levels.
The five-time Stihl Timbersports U.S. Champion would be training and competing hard in an attempt to win another title. The 33-year-old says he’s still training, but misses competing.
“A couple of shows I was really looking forward to have been canceled,” he said. “One of them was in Australia, with a lot of world titlists competing. The other was right here in West Virginia — the Webster County Woodchopping Festival.”
Missing out on the Australia event bothered Cogar because it would have given him a chance to compete against some of the world’s finest lumberjacks. Losing the Webster event bothered him because the Cogar family is so closely associated with it.
The event began in 1960, largely because Cogar’s first-cousin, Webster County native Arden Cogar Sr., had become a dominant force at woodchopping events in the U.S. and Australia. Since then, more than 20 members of the Cogar family have competed in the Webster Springs-based event.
But not this year. Faced with the uncertainty associated with the pandemic, organizers canceled the event “to protect the health and safety of all participants.”
So far this year, seven competitions have been canceled, including the U.S. Championship and all the qualifying events leading up to it.
That’s particularly disappointing to Cogar, who might have won a sixth straight U.S. title last year had he not disqualified in the hot saw event.
“Because of the DQ, I didn’t even podium last year, and that was a huge disappointment,” he said. “I was really looking forward to redeeming myself for that.
“Now that’s not going to happen, and that’s disappointing. But at the same time, too, it gives me a bit more time to add to my skill base.”
At his Grafton home, Cogar has a practice area that allows him to chop and saw to his heart’s content.
“I haven’t slacked off on my training regimen,” he said. “I might not be going to competitions, but I still want to be as fit as I can.”
On a typical day, Cogar starts off with a morning session on his exercise bike. In the afternoon, he focuses on chopping, sawing and gear preparation.
The sport’s six disciplines — underhand chop, stock saw, standing block chop, single-buck saw, springboard chop and hot saw — require not only strength, speed and explosive power, but also expertise at chainsaw maintenance, ax sharpening and buck-saw sharpening.
After he finishes his afternoon lumberjacking session, Cogar wraps up his training with body-weight exercises and calisthenics.
“With the gyms closed, I can’t go and lift weights, so I do plyometric exercises to build strength and explosiveness,” he said. “The folks with the Red Bull High Performance Team have helped me to dial in my training, from the exercises right down to maintaining a proper diet.”
He said the virus-related layoff from competition has given him more time to spend with his 4-year-old daughter, Bailey, but the social-distancing guidelines associated with COVID-19 have kept him from visiting most of the rest of his family.
“I got a chance to visit a bit with my pop, but I wasn’t able to give him a hug like I usually do, and we had to keep a bit of distance between us,” he said.
“Other than that, I haven’t been able to go visit my folks as much as I’d have liked. I know you can have the virus and don’t even know it, and you can go and visit your relatives and give it to them.”
So far, Cogar said he and his family have “been blessed to avoid any exposure” to COVID-19.
“I can’t do anything about the competitions that have been canceled, but I’m still healthy and able to train for the future,” he said. “Eventually we’ll get back to normality. That’s what I’m working toward.”