A Cut Above: Pittsfield’s Benedict goes pro in Stihl Timbersports series

Pittsfield-native Tim Benedict is quickly making a name for himself in the Stihl Timbersports Series.

After claiming a collegiate national championship competing for Penn State, Benedict is ready and able to enter the professional ranks. He will be a rookie among a field of 40 professional Stihl timbersport competitors.

But he’s used his share of saws and axes.

“Growing up in a rural area was definitely an advantage,” said Benedict, a 2008 graduate of Youngsville High School. “My grandpa had me splitting wood and running a chainsaw long before my mother and grandmother approved. Splitting all that wood definitely helped improve my accuracy with an axe.”

His family may not have realized that splitting firewood in Pittsfield would eventually lead to a trip to the 2012 Stihl World Championship Finals in Lillehammer, Norway, which Benedict credits as being the “coolest” place he’s competed. He made the trip competing as a member of a rookie relay team.

“I thought nationals was cool, but the World Championships took it to a whole new level,” added Benedict. “Being able to compete in the same arena that held the (1994) Winter Olympics was pretty neat.”

The Stihl Timbersports Series may not draw the same audience as the Olympics, but with over 20 million viewers annually in 62 countries around the world, it’s gained quite a following. Competitions have been televised on various ESPN networks, as well as the Outdoor Channel and Eurosport. If television coverage isn’t enough for the fans, there’s even a Stihl Timbersports fantasy league.

In both the Professional Series and the Collegiate Series, athletes are rated in separate events (single buck, standing block chop, stock saw, and underhand chop). In the Pro Series, two more events are added – the hot saw and springboard chop. Competitors with the highest total score win.

Benedict has entered the Collegiate Series three times since joining a college team his freshman year at Mont Alto, later winning the championship in 2012 after placing sixth and third in previous years. He qualified for the national events with two first-place finishes and one second-place finish in regional meets. In addition to the higher profile Stihl events, Benedict says that he competes in around 15 smaller events each season, mostly in Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia.

But there’s a huge difference, he said, in the Collegiate Series and Pro Series – the obvious being the quality and quantity of competitors.

There are 40 on the Pro Series that have to “re-apply every year,” said Benedict. So you have to stay sharp. He has already competed alongside the pro competitors at events, but wasn’t able to earn a score as an amateur. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t seen just how good they are, and where he stacks up.

“It does pay out a little bit,” said Benedict – from $150 for last place up to “enough to pay for travel and a little equipment.”

“It’s what I’ve always wanted (to be on the Pro Series),” he said.

Benedict’s “offseason” won’t require much adjustment for events that take place all over the United States, and culminating with the World Championships in Germany.

“Outside of Timbersports, I’m still a lumberjack,” he said. “I am a logger and work with fellow Stihl Timbersports Professional Mike Koers, so getting time off for a competition is never an issue.”

Koers, who now lives in Russell, has been involved with the sport since 2001 and, like Benedict, won a Collegiate Series championship, in 2005.

“I’ve known (Mike) for about four years,” said Benedict. “I go to him quite often for help. He’s shown and taught me a lot about the sport.”

Two from Warren County alone will show their stuff among just 40 on the Stihl Timbersport Pro Series.

Benedict wants to get going “as soon as I can,” he said.