World-Class Log Rolling Sisters Aim for the Olympics

April 6, 2018

By Michelle Criqui

Military kids are trendsetters!

During the Winter Olympics last month, we learned that many of our OMK Stars have quite the athletic prowess, and take part in a wide array of fascinating competitive endeavors. Two sisters from Wisconsin stood out, competing as world-class log rollers who were recently ranked eighth and tenth in the world in Women’s Professional Logrolling, according to the U.S. Log Rolling Association.

Then, in February 2018, Our Military Kids granted another young athlete — also a Wisconsin native — our first-ever grant for log rolling lessons. So what makes this sport stand out?

Log rolling requires a keen sense of balance, along with superior core strength.

Balancing on opposite ends of a cedar log, sisters and globally-ranked professional log rollers Maggie and Haley Penning enter into a competition of quick feet and impressive stability as they attempt to knock the other off and into the water.

After nearly a minute of matched skill, Haley, 17, splashes water into the air with her foot, in an attempt to distract her sister. The move ultimately works, and Maggie, 19, slips off into the water, leaving Haley victorious 一 at least for this match.

Maggie and Haley began taking log rolling lessons when they were just eight and six years old, respectively. Less than three years later, in the fall of 2009, their father deployed to Kuwait, and the Penning sisters each received an Our Military Kids grant for ski lessons, which they took during the off-season for log rolling.

“It is an honor to serve these talented kids while their father serves our country,” Angela Burton, Executive Director at Our Military Kids, said.

Maggie credits the “tightknit military community” as a great source of support during this difficult time for her family. They received extra help during Christmastime from their friends and neighbors, and with the help from their Our Military Kids grants, the sisters were able to compete on their school’s ski team during the winter and in in log rolling competitions during the summer.

But why log rolling?

“It’s kind of a big deal in our hometown,” Maggie said. “Everyone’s tried it there.”

The Pennings hail from Hayward, Wisc., home of the annual Lumberjack World
Championships. This event draws around 3,000 spectators from every year, and features such outdoorsy challenges as wood chopping, sawing, pole climbing and, of course, log rolling.

Hayward hosted its first Lumberjack World Championships in 1960, and has since had competitors from a variety of states, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

“A lot of kids grow up log rolling here,” Samantha Hadley, vice president of the U.S. Log Rolling Association, said. “The sport grows a bit each year.”

In the warmer months, log rollers do most of their training on land. According to Maggie, this includes uphill runs to strengthen their legs, and core workouts to improve their balance. In the water, athletes use soccer cleats that have been ground down and embellished with metal spikes to practice on shorter logs.

“It’s a big mental sport,” Maggie said. “Once you just get the hang of it physically, you just have to get past it mentally when you’re in competitions.”

When Maggie was 14, she won her first world title, for the U-13 Girls Division. Then, at age 16, she won a Semi-Pro world title, which allowed her to officially become one of the youngest professional log rollers.

“I just kind of saw how it goes and took my time adjusting,” said Maggie. “But I started getting the hang of it with all those professionals.”

Haley won her first world title when she was only seven in the U-10 Girls Division. She went on to win a world title for the U-12 Girls Division, and then went professional after winning a third world title just last year, at age 16.

According to the U.S. Log Rolling Association, Maggie is now ranked eighth in the world in professional Women’s Log Rolling, and Haley is tenth.

“It was exciting to see that Haley was ranked so high after her first year pro,” Maggie said.

The sisters’ ultimate goal? To see the sport they love gain global recognition at the Olympics.

“We are trying to spread the world about the sport we love and watch it grow,” Maggie said.

Not only does it take undeniable athletic ability to compete, but the sport is also “enthralling to watch,” according to Hadley, who agreed that log rolling has great potential to become a contender in the Summer Olympics.

Maggie cited the men’s log rolling competitions as being particularly riveting, as spectators often cannot even see the log under their feet because it sinks so low in the water during the commotion.

Additionally, Maggie said that recent innovations in log rolling, such as the creation of synthetic logs that are more easily transported, have made it a much more viable sport for international, Olympic competition.

“Society is becoming more open to unique sports,” Hadley said. “It’s just a matter of growing, getting the word out and spreading the log rolling love.”

No matter what the future holds for this fascinating sport and the determined log rollers who continue in its tradition, Our Military Kids is in their corner all the way.

Life as a military kid can certainly be a balancing act. But for these resilient young athletes, it’s just another day on the water.