Interview w/ Abby Hoeschler

Minnesota raises athletes of all types and sizes. Some are born ready for the ice, while others, like Abby Hoeschler, are more comfortable on top of a log.

While many might be unfamiliar with log rolling, it is a sport born out of industry that reaches far back to the late 1800’s when mills transported lumber via the mighty Mississippi.

In our exclusive interview, Abby talks about why she loves this unusual sport and her training regimen. Yo-ho!

MMG: Logrolling is a family tradition and clearly in your blood, but explain why you like the sport so much? Why do you think you keep doing it after all these years?

HOESCHLER: Log rolling is an intense sparring sport. You’re standing very close to your competitor on the same log, you can hear her breathing.

There’s a frenzy of activity stepping back and forth on the log and with one misstep, you’re in. You have to focus on yourself and maintain composure. It’s an interesting combination of having to be very fierce but also very calm.

MMG: You are a World Champion and World Record holder. Having achieved so much success at such a young age, what motivates you to keep competing?

HOESCHLER: I really enjoy the process of training and, of course, I love competing. Log rolling is a sport that is very mentally and emotionally challenging, and so I think any physical edge that you might lose with age, you gain something with experience.

Every year I feel like I learn more about myself and become more mature about my outlook on competing.

MMG: How would you describe your strategy in the log rolling competitions? Are you more active or reactive?

HOESCHLER: Well my temperament is definitely to be more active – growing up training with two older sisters and my mom, I was kind of like the little Mighty Mouse, “lemmme at ‘em, lemme at’em!”

However, because I am at a weight disadvantage with most of my competitors, strategically I often have to be more reactive.

As soon as log rolling becomes a bigger sport, it will be weight classed. If you have two equally talented log rollers, the heavier roller has an advantage – it’s all physics.

MMG: Log rolling requires a great amount of focus. How do you mentally prepare for that?

HOESCHLER: I practice yoga which helps. When you’re fatigued, you have to focus on your breath, and just take each (super small and fast) step one at a time.

You can’t think about what will happen later in the match or the outcome, because that will just cause you to lose a fall.

It’s not like tennis where you have a few hours to get into the match and you can think strategically long-term. You have to be in the moment. You have to be comfortable just being in your head.

When I was younger, I remember always thinking during the middle of matches, “what if I just jumped off right now? I could just end all of this stress and just jump off the log.”

So half the battle is often against your own mind. After 24 years of competing, I’ve learned to block out those thoughts by now, but it took until pretty recently!

MMG: What do you think log rolling can teach athletes in terms about winning and losing and overall competition?

HOESCHLER: Log rolling is the ultimate, “thrill of victory, agony of defeat” type sport. The winner is standing high and dry on top the log, and the loser just got dunked in the water.

It feels amazing when you know you’ve knocked someone off the log, and when you lose, all you can think about is, “how did that happen??”

So the two things I’ve learned, rather, I’m still learning are: first, you have to pick yourself up, not feel sorry for yourself, and let go of your ego; and second, the importance of winning graciously.

After competing this long, I know very well what it feels like to lose, and so I‘ve become more empathetic of how my competitor feels after a match. Sooner or later you’re going to be on the losing end of that log.

Having to compete against my sisters has also taught me a lot about winning and losing. When you have to go back and have dinner together and sleep in the same hotel room with your competitor, you think a little bit differently about the importance of winning and losing.

If you lost, you have to put a smile on your face and try to feel happy for your sibling (because the rest of the family isn’t going to let you sulk!); and if you win, you have to temper your excitement and be respectful and loving towards your sibling. It puts things in perspective.

MMG: What are people most surprised about when they try log rolling for the very first time?

HOESCHLER: I think people are most surprised at how addicting it is. If I had a quarter every time I heard someone say, “Let me try just one more time!” And of course people find out pretty quickly that it’s harder than it looks.

They’re also surprised at how much core it is, and how tired they get.

MMG: Log rolling is such a unique sport. Who are your mentors or coaches that you look towards for guidance as you continue to develop as an athlete?

HOESCHLER: I of course look to my mom, Judy Scheer Hoeschler, a seven-time world champion log roller.

She’s pretty fierce and extremely competitive, but she’s also extremely compassionate. She has a very analytical mind and so I learn a lot from her post-match analysis.

Up until a year ago, I had never had a professional coach or trainer for log rolling. The sport is simply not big enough yet that I’d ever make a living competing, and so it never seemed to warrant hiring a trainer.

However, I’ve just gotten so busy with starting and growing Key Log Rolling in the last few years, that it became difficult for me to manage my own training regimen. I finally decided to get some help last year!

My trainer (and now friend!) Mike Bjornson has seriously stepped up my strength training. I had never done any serious weight lifting until I started working with Mike last winter.

It’s been fun learning more about it and improving my technique, and of course I definitely feel that my whole body is a lot stronger.

Coincidentally, Mike’s wife Katie, used to log roll with my sisters and me growing up!

Mike also introduced me to a metabolic specialist, Jeff Burkart who has been helping me build up different aerobic energy systems.

I used to just go run a bunch of hill sprints for dry-land training, and it’s been awesome to take a more scientific approach my training.

Again, it’s a small sport so it’s maybe more than the level of competition really warrants, but I enjoy the process, and I think Mike and Jeff are enjoying learning something new and creating training programs for a sport they’ve never encountered.

I hope we can take everything we’re learning and use it to continue finding best practices for training future log rolling athletes.

MMG: So now with the help of these coaches, what does a normal week of training look like for you then when you are in the competitive season? How much practice are you doing on the logs and how much time are you putting in elsewhere to keep in shape?

HOESCHLER: I try to have the bulk of my strength and conditioning training done before the season starts, but of course I’ll continue it a bit into the beginning of the season, but usually tapering the amount of weight lifting.

If I’m competing on a weekend, I’m typically rolling 3-4 times a week for an hour and half, and then mixing in strength and sprints.

I also just like to be active in a lot of different sports, in the winter I train for the American Birkebeiner, a 50km cross country ski race.

I mountain bike, play tennis, practice yoga, downhill ski. I’ve started to try to do more climbing and slack lining as well.

MMG: Is diet and nutrition a factor at all?

HOESCHLER: For sure! I eat A LOT of beans, it’s becoming a bit of joke. I love to cook and so eating healthfully is pretty easy.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat much meat. I don’t have any strict diet or rules, I’ve just learned to listen to what my body needs and make sure I’m fueling it right.

I have a sweet tooth so I usually indulge after dinner…thankfully log rolling season is in the summer so I never feel bad stopping for ice cream!

MMG: Who else in your life is a source of inspiration in your athletic endeavors?

HOESCHLER: To be honest, all of the people that I’ve taught log rolling to over the past four years through Key Log Rolling have been an inspiration.

Now that I am introducing people to log rolling as my career, I get to see every week how psyched up people get about it.

It’s been amazing to see such a wide range of people fall in love with log rolling – from summer camp directors in Maine to rec sports staff at big universities in the Midwest to professional surfers and stand-up-paddle boarders in California, and everywhere in between.

They’ve breathed new life into the sport for me, and it’s inspired me to be an athlete to look up to. Log rolling is a teeny tiny sport right now, but I truly believe it could one day be in the Olympics, and I humbly hope to be in the history books.

This is random, but Laird Hamilton is also a source of inspiration to me in both my athletic endeavors and my business.

He turned his passion for surfing into a business and a lifestyle. I met him a few years ago and he thinks very analytically and critically and about training , but also takes a more holistic approach to both physical and mental preparation.

MMG: What’s the best advice that you have received over the years?

HOESCHLER: It’s cliché, but “if you give-up in practice, you practice giving up.” In log rolling, it doesn’t matter whether or not you stayed on the log, just who stayed on the longest, and so each step counts.

Even in practice as I’m falling in, I try to fight for every last step, because you never know if your opponent might slip up and go in before you.

MMG: What then is your best piece of advice to other athletes?

HOESCHLER: Enjoy the process.

MMG: In the sport of CrossFit, the term “goat” refers to something you suck at, whether it be a certain lift, movement or exercise. What’s your goat?

HOESCHLER: Splashing water in my opponents’ eyes. I’m typically the shorter competitor, so I have to get the water to go a lot further.

There’s usually more risk than reward in that move for me.

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