As one of Britain’s leading ‘lumberjills’, Dee Hardwick is used to carving out her own path – but now the NHS worker from Redditch wants to encourage more women and LGBTQ+ people to discover the buzz about Timbersports; she explains why the sport is not just “an amazing workout” but also truly welcoming…
By Sports Media LGBT+
Athlete Dee Hardwick is taking on the world through STIHL Timbersports.
This fast-growing competition, which sees participants chop and saw wood against the clock, had its first British women’s event just last summer, in 2022.
Since then, Dee has not only smashed her personal bests several times, but made friends for life along the way, enjoying the accepting and welcoming environment.
The 45-year-old from Redditch juggles her Timbersports career with being a full-time NHS worker and playing rugby.
Here, Dee tells us all about her sporting journey and the changes she has observed in attitudes towards female and LGBTQ+ athletes…
Hi Dee! Tell us about your background in sports…
I’ve been playing women’s sport for a long, long time. This will be my 23rd year playing rugby and I’ve also played hockey, American football and judo. You name it, I’ve played it! I’m a great believer in trying everything once.
I’ve played lots of different sports and loved a lot of them and some of the experiences have been amazing. I’ve been to America for rugby refereeing, and I got to be vice-captain of an American football team.
Now I’ve had the opportunity to be on a big stage with Timbersports.
How did you get involved in STIHL Timbersports?
I was a medical rep for 10 years and I got furloughed during COVID. I was buying and selling chainsaws and flipping them and tinkering with them, just to keep myself sane.
I just went on to the STIHL website for some bits and I saw an advert to come and try Timbersports. I’m a big strong girl and I thought hey, why don’t I have a go at this?
I went along to a trial day back in March 2022, and got selected for the programme. So I’ve been doing it for just over a year now.
What was your impression from that first trial day?
What’s really unusual about Timbersports is that everyone is so friendly and everyone wants everyone to succeed.
This is the first sport where there are no cliques. I’ve made some amazing friends from it and in fact, one of them is going to be my best woman at my wedding!
Being big and strong is an advantage, but there’s a lot of technique. Watching old videos of the first training day to now, it’s just amazing how much the technique has changed. I loved it – it’s very addictive.
What does your daily routine look like as a Timbersports athlete and NHS worker?
I work around my shifts – I do four 10-hour shifts a week and then I do a lot of training.
I live in Redditch, which is a small area. I don’t have a massive woodshed so I have a lot of the stuff at home. I have a tyre with a big sledgehammer that replicates certain things, I can set up underhand chops. I have a chainsaw that I can retrain, and during the summer we’re often doing demos at county shows so I get my training in there.
A lot of it is just training in my back garden. I’ll be 46 this year, so I want to be fit, as much as I can. I don’t do loads of cardio because believe it or not, working in the NHS, I can walk up to about 16 kilometres a day during a shift.
I collect patients, push around equipment. It’s quite a physical job, so that actually keeps you really fit too. It actually works really well together.
How did it feel to compete in the first-ever British Women’s Championship last year?
It was really humbling, actually – it’s a little bit of history. I’m really for women doing sport and it was great to be part of an inaugural event.
It was an amazing feeling being on the stage. I used to do Burlesque and a bit of stand up so being in front of a load of people wasn’t that much of a worry for me and actually, I used it to feed off their energy.
This year, I had some work colleagues and some rugby friends come and watch. Just feeling that cheer when you go onto the stage, it’s the greatest feeling. You’ve got people rooting for you.
Do you feel that as an LGBTQ+ woman in this previously male-dominated sport, you’re challenging the classic notion of what being a woodchopper might look like?
I think from an outsider’s point of view, definitely. They expect them to be big burly guys with beards, maybe wearing plaid shirts. But actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I love pushing back boundaries. I love being out there and proving that, you know, you don’t have to be a man to do this. It takes all shapes and sizes. Tall, short, fat, thin, gay, straight, it doesn’t matter.
It’s a really welcoming community and it’s just the most amazing workout as well. You are absolutely blowing by the time you’ve finished it!
I’ve turned up with my partner, who’s now taking the sport up. It’s never an issue. People don’t point it out.
I had my lucky socks on, which are a pair of rainbow-striped rugby socks. It’s nice to be unique, but it’s not seen as an issue and it’s not seen as a barrier. It’s a great community and I would encourage anyone within the LGBTQ+ community to come and have a go.
Are there many STIHL Timbersports athletes who are part of the LGBTQ+ community?
I wouldn’t want to say who is and who isn’t. Certainly in the UK, there’s only myself and one other person who is within the community, who is just lovely and we have that bond.
Worldwide, I’m pretty sure there are more people part of the community, but because it’s not seen as such a big thing and everyone’s accepting, it’s not blown up,
It’s not like, ‘Oh that’s so and so, she’s this or he’s that’. I’m just, Dee the ‘lumberjill’. It’s nice to be introducing a great sport to that part of the community.
Do you think that the perception of athletes who are part of the LGBTQ+ community has changed?
I still think it’s really difficult for people to come out. There are obviously key figures in history such as Martina Navratilova in tennis, from when I was growing up.
Now you’ve got the USA women’s soccer team, some of them are openly gay, but it’s not something you see so much in British media and I don’t think it’s such a big thing for women to come out.
If a male player comes out, it’s all over the press. It’d be nice if more people came out, but that’s the double-edged sword of media, isn’t it?
Hopefully one day we won’t have to have this conversation about who is LGBTQ+. But it’s changed massively. Those perceptions are going and that’s nice.
What advice do you have for young LGBTQ+ sports people?
If someone says you can’t do it, go out and do it twice, to prove it to them. If someone says no, you can’t do that because you’re a girl or because you’re a boy, stick it to them.
Go out, do it and show them that you can do it. If you enjoy it, go and do it. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.
You’re getting married to your partner and everyone dressed up as lumberjacks for your hen party. How was that?
It was brilliant. We all had lumberjack shirts on, we had our beards and little beanie hats.
For our wedding, we’re going to have a little cake that’s shaped like a log, and we’re going to use one of the axes to cut it. It’s pretty cool. I’m very lucky to have such a network of people who are very supportive.
What are your hopes for the future of Timbersports?
I would like more people to do it. It’s actually quite an accessible sport once you get access to the equipment. It’s quite cheap after.
I’d love for there to be more clubs and people doing it in England and Scotland, and I’d love more women to be doing it.
A lot of people think, oh, it’s always been male-dominated. Actually, no! There are films of women in the 1930s and 1940s competing. So it just shows how amazing the sport is and how inclusive it is. That’s what I’d really love for it.
What are your personal goals going forward as a STIHL Timbersports athlete?
This year at the Championships, I set three PBs. I set myself three goals and I achieved them.
I would love to be able to go abroad. It’s huge in America and Canada, and I’d love to be able to do that. Standing on top of the podium with an LGBTQ+ flag flying behind me would be absolutely amazing.
The next step is to get on the podium, get abroad and why not stand there with the LGBTQ+ flag behind me and really put that presence out there?
Thank you to Dee for the Q&A!
Follow Dee’s adventures on Instagram at @deehardwick, check out the STIHL Timbersports website for more info on how to get involved in the sport and watch all the action on YouTube.
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