Schoharie County

Cobleskill’s Fletcher readies for Stihl Timbersports US Rookie championships (with 7 photos)

AJ Fletcher of Cobleskill demonstrates his ax stills practicing for the standing block competition at his home in Cobleskill prior to the Stihl Timbersports Rookie US Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas Friday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

AJ Fletcher of Cobleskill demonstrates his ax stills practicing for the standing block competition at his home in Cobleskill prior to the Stihl Timbersports Rookie US Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas Friday.

Cobleskill resident A.J. Fletcher’s rise in timber sports didn’t start at a young age. He didn’t have a Pop Warner or Little League organization to teach him how to swing an ax. 

But after competing in football and wrestling in high school, he took up a different challenge in college.

Now, the 24-year-old tree climber will compete Friday in five different lumberjack-style events against the best woodsmen under the age of 25 in the United States at the Stihl Timbersports Rookie US Championships in Arkansas.

“I qualified for Stihl [rookie championships], and I can show them that I’m there at the professional level or I’m very close to being ready,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully, I can make the professional series by the time I’m 27 or 28.”

Stihl Timbersports was launched in 1985 at logging competitions in the United States and now offers 27 national championships, world championship competitions in men’s and women’s professional divisions, as well as rookie division competition. The rookie division is open to qualifying woodsmen under the age of 25.

Fletcher, a Cobleskill-Richmondville High School graduate, attended Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks after high school. That’s when he was introduced to the sport.

“I saw the Stihl timber sports series on television and I’d watch the SUNY Cobleskill competitions when they were held in the spring,” Fletcher said. “Paul Smith doesn’t have a football team or a wrestling team, and I needed to do something. Some schools have their football players as stars, Paul Smith has their woodsmen.”

After a year at Paul Smith, Fletcher enrolled at SUNY Cobleskill, but without a guaranteed spot on the woodsmen club team.

A.J. Fletcher (7 photos)

AJ Fletcher rears back with his ax STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
AJ Fletcher demonstrates his ax skills STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
AJ Fletcher lands his ax into a block of wood STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
AJ Fletcher STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
AJ Fletcher STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE

“I kind of just showed up at the first practice,” Fletcher said. “I had some skill, I picked up some stuff.”

Continuing to bet on himself, Fletcher reached out to a contact in Michigan about a summer job that year — as a lumberjack.

“Can you chop? Can you speed climb? Can you log roll?” Fletcher was asked. 

The answers: “Chop yes; speed climb, I did once in college; log roll, well, once in college.”

Fletcher was told to “come on out,” and he was on his way down a path that launched him into a career as a lumberjack and a professional tree climber, as well as the coach of the SUNY Cobleskill Woodsmen team.

“I just fell in love with the lifestyle, traveling around doing [lumberjack] shows for people, chopping wood. There’s just really nothing better for me,” Fletcher said.

At 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, Fletcher doesn’t give off the appearance of a stereotypical lumberjack.

“I’m not the biggest guy, but I have proportionally long arms, I’ve been told,” said Fletcher, who graduated with an agriculture degree in business in 2020 from SUNY Cobleskill and started Fletcher Tree Service. “That helps put the ax into the wood better.”

Calling himself a “tree assassin,” Fletcher’s time climbing trees as tall as 120 feet while carrying a 20-pound battery pack and battery-operated chainsaw to remove the tops of trees helps keep him in timber sports shape.

“I can deadlift 430 pounds, squat 315 pounds in reps, so I’ve got really strong legs for a guy my size,” Fletcher said. “I figured out how to engage what works for me.”

Fletcher competes across the nation in state association competitions and various lumberjack showcases. He often stands out in competitions because of his handlebar mustache that’s been growing for a year.

“It’s my good luck charm,” Fletcher said. “I do it up really good for competitions and I tell people I keep my power in my mustache.”

Fletcher will compete in five events at the Stihl Timbersports championships with three different tools of the trade — chainsaw, ax and saw. He will participate in the stock saw, standing block chop, single buck, underhand chop and springboard in an eight-person field with points awarded for each finish position.

At his home in Cobleskill, Fletcher practices the standing block chop, the underhand chop and the stock saw. He travels to Cherry Valley in Otsego County to practice his other skills with other competitors.

Fletcher’s tool of choice in competitions are 7.5-inch Tuitahi ax heads made in Australia with several variations of handles to swing. Razor sharp could be an understatement; Fletcher demonstrated one edge by cutting the hair off his forearms slowly and deliberately with one of his favorite axes during a practice session last week at his home, removing the hair effortlessly.

Fletcher demonstrated the textbook swing into a standing block of wood secured into a standing training stand. Precise 45-degree blows into the wood allow for large chunks called dinner plates to fly out of the wood. In the standing block, the competitors switch sides to finish cutting the block in half. In the underhand chop, the competitor stands on the block, cuts below them, and switches sides to complete the cut.

Time is of the essence in each event and Fletcher has a lofty goal in mind on Friday — a world record in the stock saw event.

Each competitor uses a Stihl 90-plus CC chainsaw and must cut two slices from a 40-centimeter block of wood within a 10-centimeter mark in just two cuts — one down and one up.

“I want to set that stock saw world record [9.86 seconds],” Fletcher said. “I’ve been training really hard for it. I think if it’s going to get broken, I think I’m going to do it.”

Fletcher didn’t predict a title heading into his first-ever rookie championship appearance.

“It’s my first time on the big stage,” Fletcher said. “I’m going down there to see what it’s like.

“Once I make the pro ranks, there’s a lot of great competitors that it’s going to be a long time before I’m even in the top five, but I want to go down there and cut well for me. I want to do better than I did at my qualifier. I’ll go down there and do what I can.”

The Stihl Timbersports Rookie US Championships will be shown at 1 p.m. Friday at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NyFjwNzCiQ.

Amsterdam native Tyler White will be competing in the men’s professional division, which also starts Friday.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Sports

Leave a Reply