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Salzman rolls with the punches
By Sam Eifling
Great Outdoor Games staff

Right about now, J.R. Salzman is probably running himself raw in the highest altitudes he can find in the northern nub of Idaho.

He's there with his sister, fellow logroller Tina Bosworth, in training for the Great Outdoor Games, hoping to simulate the Reno-Lake Tahoe air, 6,000 or so feet above sea level.

He had trouble with the altitude on an elk hunting trip in Colorado and is preparing accordingly, in part because he's still smarting from his bronze medal showing in last year's Great Outdoor Games.

If Great Outdoor Games gold paid the bills, J.R. Salzman would be living the high life.
"He should have never gotten by me, but unfortunately I had my head up my butt," Salzman said of his loss to eventual gold medallist Darren Hudson, to whom he gives proper credit for the win.

Salzman offered this diagnosis while navigating early evening traffic in Minneapolis, on his way to his folks' place in Hayward, Wis., trying to avoid getting smeared by some 18-wheeler while reading signs and gabbing on his cell phone simultaneously.

Nothing comes easy

Nothing, it seems, has been easy for Salzman lately. He's been beating the pavement searching for sponsors, and even for decent places to logroll. He and the toothpick he calls a training log kept getting booted out of public boat landings until he got permission from the owner of a waterfront restaurant to roll outside. Trouble with that is, with all the boat traffic he can rarely roll. Such is life even for a five-time world champion when his chosen sport doesn't fill stadiums.

"I've been asking everybody, talking to everybody I can think of," Salzman said of his sponsorship quest. "It hasn't been going well, to say the least. I'm trying to train, I'm trying to make my bills, and make all my expenses, and it's nearly impossible.

Few competitors have been able to dump Salzman, but the challenges of making ends meet professionally in the sport are starting to take their toll.
"You work as much as possible, doing what you can do. I work construction right now, all through the winter. You can't log roll year round and make a living unless you have a lumberjack show and eat ramen noodles every meal and drive a Geo Metro, that's the only way. But I'm not willing to do that."

At least he's feeling fit as ever in the water. Salzman, who turned 24 on July 2nd, has lost only one match since 1998, and that was at the 2002 Great Outdoor Games. He rebounded later that month with a win at the Lumberjack World Championships, over Hudson.

That victory made his Lake Placid defeat all the more inexplicable to him, because at some point in the world championships, he attained a Zen-like understanding of log rolling. He didn't fall all weekend.

With this deep understanding came a calm.

"Halfway through the match I was thinking of Dairy Queen and getting a Blizzard," he said.

His mother, Bonnie Salzman, the executive director of the lumberjack championships, attributes her son's success to his focus — honed, she said, in violin lessons when he was a kid. Plus, he's the log rolling equivalent of a gym rat, rolling at least four hours a day, his mom estimates. On a recent night, when he had been rolling late, she looked for him on the lake and could see only a speck, about a half-mile away.

Rolling with his sister, a nine-time world champion and favorite training partner, will help J.R. immerse himself in the sport, not that he has to go far for that. With the Great Outdoor Games and world championships both less than a month away, his parents' answering machine greeted callers with this message: "Hi, you've reached the Salzmans. Sorry we can't take your call right now. After all, it's logrolling season. So we're either outside rolling logs, painting logs, moving logs or whatever. So leave us a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."

Decision time

Sure enough, when Bonnie returned a call, she had been out painting logs, part of a 12-hour day. And even she marvels at her son's dedication to the sport. On the side he also has been teaching lessons to about 100 kids at the Hayward Log Rolling School, showing kids as young as 3-years-old first not to look at their feet, then to kick with both feet, then how to stop, to run, to step back. Great fun, but it doesn't pay.

"He's reaching that point now where you can't just be a log rolling bum, you have to work, too," Bonnie Salzman said. "And there's a fine line with someone who's not comfortable until he's put in all those hours on the log."

She has told him he could put in half the time rolling that he does and still have far more practice than any of his competitors. Course, it depends on whom you ask.

"A lot of people don't realize, it's been really tough this year," J.R. said. "I've been working and haven't been able to get nearly enough rolling in."

Then he adds: "I'm still going to be as strong as ever."

Because, you know, whatever doesn't kill you…