ST. CHARLES – Pondering his musical accompaniment for Wednesday’s maiden Jack Axe Challenge obstacle course run, Joe Koup requested something “not like Slipknot heavy, but just heavy.”
Adrenaline and irony swirled in tandem moments later as “I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace blared near the Kane County Fairgrounds grandstand.
Koup, of Sugar Grove, felt much sunnier about the fair demo, to be sure.
“It definitely requires a certain level of fitness, and you know, some hand-eye coordination skill,” Koup, 38, said. “Right off the bat, you’re throwing the axe. I think if you can stick that axe right off the bat, you’ve got a really good shot.”
An abbreviated Jack Axe course awaited any interested man or woman from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday. Seventeen obstacles will daunt participants in the inaugural Jack Axe Games here Aug. 29 and 30, but this run included but five.
Koup, a pricing analyst, completed the course moments before fellow CrossFit Sugar Grove coach Jessica Baumgartner, 32. A $25 entry fee earned an athlete a Jack Axe T-shirt and the opportunity at $250 if he or she earned the fastest male or female time.
Koup (2:55) and Baumgartner (2:40) set an early benchmark for their respective genders, following the axe throw with a log tug and pull, stone carry, caber toss and log cross cut.
“I definitely think even at a lower level you can still do it,” Baumgartner said. “I mean, you still need strength, but you still can do it and have fun doing it. … But to do well at it, you need a high level of fitness, yeah.”
Jack Axe co-founders Eric Klein of Batavia and Eric Winkler of St. Charles trumpet the event’s everyman appeal by discussing its genesis – a fusion of lumberjack, Scottish Highlander and strongest man competitions.
Klein, a 48-year-old real estate broker with about two acres of property, thought he’d summon some buddies for a makeshift showcase last year, channeling the acts of John Wayne’s Sam McCord at the lumberjack games in the 1960 film “North to Alaska.”
Winkler, a 39-year-old business development manager, emerged as champion after the group of about a dozen friends consumed a few brats and adult beverages en route to the finish. With that came an idea.
“I think the thing that really drew me to it was the community,” Klein said. “So much of it, we’re like into our iPads and computers and stuff like that. We’re not spending enough time with each other. And when we do those things, everybody seems to love it. So it’s just trying to capture that as much as we can.”
Repeat the name “Jack Axe” once fast, if not five times. Klein and Winkler want you to.
“We wanted to have some fun with this, not just be ultra serious about it, either,” Winkler said. “But … when somebody says ‘JackAxe,’ they don’t just (accept it.). ‘Uh, uh, yeah, excuse me; what did you just say?’ They actually have an intentional moment to listen to you and what you’re actually trying to get across. So it’s been a great name. I mean, people have just really responded with a lot of nice things to say about it.
“And what’s even funnier is when my (six)-year-old actually says it, too. He’s like, ‘Dad, you’ve got JackAxe going on today?’ Yes, son, I do.”
Jack Axe brass hopes to continue spreading the word about the endeavor in the next six weeks ahead of the debut Games, which will feature a mile-and-a-half course with obstacles such as a log flip, log smash, stone throw and wheel of woe strewn about. Top individual male and female finishers, as well as the best team, will win $1,000.
Winkler, Klein and Co. have circulated fliers, apparel and other promotional materials to various gyms and companies around the region.
If they haven’t settled on a tagline yet, Winkler offered a would-be keeper Wednesday.
“It’s not just brawn,” he said.
The need for endurance was especially evident as participants transitioned from tossing a modified caber – a 16-foot 4x4 for men, an 8-foot 4x4 for women – to the log cross cut. Momentum is paramount in not only hoisting the caber, but in building the footwork to then launch it end over end.
Koup referred to the large mass of wood as a “sabre,” a time or two, but he plans to be in position to get it right alongside his CFSG colleagues at next month’s Games.
“For sure, we’ll get a team together and come out and do it in August,” Koup said. “This was perfect.”
Not even fair food – a lemon shake-up or elephant ear, perhaps – could have improved it.
Asked how she would respond to such sustenance moments after completing the course, Baumgartner grinned, “I might throw up.”
Truth was, she already had, at least where the axe, stone and caber were concerned.
Not quite christened “Jill Axe,” Baumgartner still left with the wooden disc that resulted from her cross cut. It featured her first name and course time scrawled on one side. She plans to put it on a CFSG wall.