Many athletes dream of making a name for themselves in extreme sports, or of winning titles and successes that mean they will be remembered forever. Even for an individual athlete, that is not easy to achieve. But for an entire family to be equally well-known and successful in the field over multiple generations is a real rarity. TIMBERSPORTS® athlete Matt Cogar comes from a family which has been participating in lumberjack sports for almost 100 years, and for whom extreme sports are something of a family tradition. As one of the most successful active US athletes, he gives us some insights into the Cogar family story and what it has meant for his career.
Matt’s career in lumberjack sports began in the early 2000s. He was involved in both woodworking and competitive wood chopping from an early age, when Matt’s father, Paul Cogar led him to discover his own interest in extreme sports – he has now been hooked for 24 years, for 14 of which he has been an active athlete in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® Series. You might think that sounds like a long time, but the Cogar tradition actually goes back almost 100 years, the US athlete explains: “The family has been competing since the 1930's as early as I can tell. My cousin, Arden Jr., has a lot of the early history of our family in the sport – though it was a great uncle that got my cousin Arden Sr. started. Very literally timber camp vs timber camp and going to various competitions. Arden was a great chopper. He trained several of my uncles including my father, Paul.” And the rest is history – a long and incredibly successful history which is unparalleled in lumberjack sports. Matt’s TIMBERSPORTS® trophy collection alone is remarkable, with the 36-year-old athlete having racked up seven US championships, the 2018 US Trophy, the 2019 World Trophy and a total of five medals at World Championships – four silver and one bronze. As a family the Cogars have claimed many other trophies and titles throughout their sporting history.
From traditional forestry to a respect for nature and wood
“My family has a long tradition of working with wood and competing. Webster County has been well known in West Virginia for the sport as well as the timber industry. My Great Uncles, Grandfathers, Great Grandfathers, Cousins have all been, in some fashion, part of the industry well before chainsaws and heavy moving equipment became popular. They would remove timber using hand tools (axes and saws) and cart them out using mules or oxen to get them to the river or train rail to transport to the sawmills,” explains Matt. He believes this tradition is also reflected in his own career, in his understanding of wood – which is mostly because of his father’s influence. As a timber operative, Paul Cogar was involved not only in felling trees, but also in the care and protection of forest resources. “My father was a select timber harvester which means they were only taking out a small portion of mature and usable trees. Seeing the way that he respected nature and conservation efforts definitely impacted me to be very focused on leaving behind a legacy for future generations to follow being conservation minded, utilizing the natural resources we have and using them wisely.”
Family connection as a catalyst for performance
The 35-year-old is still as interested in extreme sports as he was at the start of his career. For Matt, no two moments at TIMBERSPORTS® are ever the same. The American finds the ever-changing developments and new challenges extremely motivating: “What fascinates me the most about the sport, is just the hard work you must put into it. There's a lot of "behind the scenes" work that must be done from wood procurement to gear maintenance and then skill work! It is also a lifetime of growth in the sport. Hopefully, I'll be learning something new until the end,” says Cogar about his passion. The athlete from West Virginia trains regularly in the individual disciplines – but that is not purely a case of putting in exercises on the wood. All processes from preparation to competition are optimised one step at a time. He needs to be in peak physical and mental state, and the equipment must be kept in optimum condition at all times. While his tireless dedication is clearly invaluable, the family history and the Cogars’ affinity with lumberjack sports have also been critical for Matt: “I absorbed so much information from my family members and their friends and connections in the sport. I think the information and the help with gear when I first started is what elevated my success. Sometimes there are bad habits that were learned early on that you can correct for the next generation, so they have a better skill set and don't struggle as often with those things that you have in your career. Sometimes the next generation doesn't have to struggle as much, so it sets them up for success.” Matt is particularly proud of his family’s closeness. The Cogar tree also helps to keep him grounded, as he thinks about how many generations have passed down a positive attitude to hard work and a thirst for success.
Lumberjack sports families: a model for the future?
In fact, Cogar is not the only name with a family connection to lumberjack sports. The best-known examples within STIHL TIMBERSPORS® include the Swedish Hansson family, the Groenwalds and Dubickis from Poland, and the USA-based Lentz and Slingerland families. And there are numerous extreme sports families in other countries such as Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic and New Zealand too. Matt has noticed the growing phenomenon and sees it as a positive trend for TIMBERSPORTS®: “I'm positive that there will be more families with those traditions in TIMBERSPORTS® through the next generations. It’s great to see Emil Hansson and Szymon Groenwald’s successes in this sport. There is a huge advantage to experience the sport through family. Their fathers have learned so much that they can hand that down directly to their sons.” Perhaps there are a few new lumberjack sports dynasties in the making. Meanwhile, Matt is clear about taking his family name forward in extreme sports: “Whether it’s directly through my own family or by passing on knowledge I have gathered over the years to the next generation of athletes, there will be ways I can continue the Cogar family tradition in this sport.”