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August 20, 2005

Timberfest hits bull's-eye with deaf

From:, MI - Aug 20, 2005


Saturday, August 20, 2005By Linda Angelo • 810.766.6340

BURNS TWP. - As Mark Naeyaert's ax hit the target's bull's-eye, his son's cheers broke the silence at the fourth Midwest Timberfest of the Deaf competition.

Naeyaert of Swartz Creek didn't hear 4-year-old Tyler cheer, but he did see a bunch of hands waving in the crowd - a sign for applause in the deaf community.

Naeyaert is expected to finish third today in the men's ax throwing contest after a tie between Fenton resident David Sanderson and Robert Cox of Frederic is settled in a final match.

Naeyaert, who was born deaf, said he was stunned when he saw his ax hit the bulls-eye.

"I felt like I was famous," he said with a laugh.

Naeyaert and his wife, Stevie, are among about 150 people attending the two-day competition at the Walnut Hills Family Campground and RV Resort in Shiawassee County's Burns Township. About 30 signed up to compete Friday to win cash prizes and more may take part today.

Stevie - coordinator of the interpretation program at Mott Community College in Flint - had several students at the event assisting both the deaf and hearing individuals. She, as well as her father, Steve Gemmill of Flint, competed in the ax throwing contest.

"The women played better than the men," she laughed after watching several men miss the target.

This is the first time the competition is taking place in Michigan. For the past 10 years, deaf people from the Midwest have gathered in Wisconsin to participate.

Kevin Ryan, director of the Midwest Timberfest of the Deaf, said he helped establish the competition in 1997 after competing for 15 years in pro timberfest events with hearing people.

"It was really a challenge, I got so close to winning," said Ryan, a Chicago resident. "My goal was to establish something the deaf could do and be equal to the hearing people. The deaf community is so small and this is a way they can get reacquainted."

The event gives the deaf a chance to take part in some out-of-the ordinary contests, such as chain sawing, pole throwing and a timber relay. They compete either in the pro or novice categories.

The contest is a first for many people in Michigan, including Clio resident Rocky Dreyer. He threw his arms up in the air as he watched his ax hit the four-point mark on a wooden target.

"I'm deaf because God wanted me to be deaf, and I'm fine with that," Dreyer said.

He is no stranger to competitions. The 50-year-old man began snowmobile racing in 1976 and joined the Michigan Snowmobilers of the Deaf when he was 13. His parents were founders of the organization, which sponsors the Midwest Timberfest contest.

"I love challenging other people," he said.

Ryan stood on top of a wooden beam as he explained in sign language the safety rules for the chain saw competition.

Patty Brothag of Ohio didn't let her fear of a chain saw keep her from entering the Class D chain saw competition. She held the saw nice and steady while the 14-inch blade ripped through a log 12 inches in diameter in 10.7 seconds - a first-place win.

"It was the first time I picked up a chain saw and I was kind of scared of it," she said afterward.

Clio resident Linda Galentine only scored one point in the ax throwing competition but didn't care.

"I love the socialization," she said. "I love the camping. It's fun, and the competition is equal. With the hearing camps, everyone is hearing, (but) at the deaf camp we all communicate the same."

Interviews for this report were conducted with the assistance of an interpreter.


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