Arden Cogar Jr. is undeniably at the top of his game after winning consecutive titles at the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series U.S. Championship presented by Ram Trucks. With a pair of gold medals to his credit the obvious question from timber sports fans and lumberjacks comes next.
What’s his secret to success?
A clue for the answer is found deep inside the French Alps, where Cogar trained with members of the STIHL France national team. The location and his training partners weren’t a secret, though.
“When I train at home with Matthew (Cogar, a training partner and cousin) we’re doing physical conditioning. We’re trying to gain muscle memory so we can perform to the best of our abilities,” he said. “We’re training at the top of our game.
“Because of that, our minds aren’t conditioned to catch things we need to improve in our technique. That’s why going to France helped me immensely. I found when I reinforced the fundamentals of chopping and sawing my top end improved. And what I did there was go back to the fundamentals of the sport.”
He was first invited to train with the team in 2011. Cogar, who speaks fluent French, went back this year along with his wife Kristy, who trained with members of the French women’s team.
Trading West Virginia for the picturesque Alps provided a stunning backdrop for training. It also opened a different set of eyes to areas that needed improvement. That feedback came from an unlikely source.
“They had a phenomenal group of athletes under age 25 that were just phenomenal,” said Cogar, 42. “Even with the age difference we did each other a lot of good.
“I told them while I was training if they saw something I could improve to please tell me. That’s because I learned as much from them as they did from me. And so it was a wonderful give and take that we had.”
Cogar and the Frenchmen trained under competition conditions. They raced head-to-head against the clock. The wide-open, high altitude pace revealed an epiphany for Cogar for the reason behind the cross-continent trip.
“People knowing very little about your chopping and sawing style can see things you miss and will ask questions. That is especially true when they are eager to learn,” said Cogar, comparing himself with the French athletes. “It’s amazing how teaching young people about the basics can benefit an experienced person like myself.
“When you coach the basics you are not only reinforcing the habits that make you good but are actually doing it with those you are training. That improves you exponentially.”
The trip wasn’t all about breaking a sweat. Cogar and his wife stayed in a chalet overlooking the Alps. French cuisine was on the menu and so was time spent with Gilles Giguet, who Cogar regards as one of the country’s top trainers and athletes.
“They have some of the most exceptional athletes for hot saw and stock saw,” Cogar said. “Some work with saws but they are just highly skilled operators. One of them is Cyril Marchal. He’s one of the most skilled stock sawyers I’ve ever seen.”
The hot saws used by athletes to train and compete in European countries are provided by STIHL. Everyone uses the same machines but that doesn’t mean the playing field is leveled by that common factor.
“It’s like what we see in the U.S. with our stock saw competitions,” he said. “Everybody uses a STIHL MS 660, but that doesn’t mean we’re all even. The times just get closer and that makes it even more competitive. It’s the same in Europe with the hot saw.
“There’s a guy named Guillaume Golliet-Mercier who is 19 and he beat everyone in the training camp, including myself. Watching him run a hot saw was like seeing Harry Burnsworth run one over here. And Mercier is a small guy who just runs a perfect hot saw.”
Mercier isn’t the only youthful standout in France. Recruitment into the sport is spread out across the continent.
“STIHL in Europe has invested a lot of time and money in the young competitors and they’ve been doing so for about 10 years,” Cogar said. “And I’m just so happy to see that STIHL U.S. is taking such an interest in the collegiate series.”
Cogar will take his second trip of the year to Europe in early September. This time it won’t be for training. It will be for the real thing when he competes in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS World Championship set for Sept. 8-9, in Lillehammer, Norway.
No matter the outcome he hopes to travel next year back to France to improve his skills even more. For Cogar, being at the top of his game is all about back to the basics, even if it requires a traveling to Europe.