Leo Roth: A father's gift of life keeps lumberjack swinging

By Leo Roth

Democrat and Chronicle, June 16, 2012

When it comes to helping their kids play sports, dads do lots of things.

Some coach, some cheer, some manage, some do all the driving. The best dads give a piece of themselves unconditionally. Heck, in some cases, they’ll even give a body part.

Helping his son, Dave Jewett, continue on as one of the world’s top timbersports athletes wasn’t Bill Jewett’s primary goal when he donated a kidney to him in August 2007. Just helping Dave get off that awful dialysis machine so he could live a normal life free of the nausea, fatigue, headaches and nosebleeds was the idea.

That Dave, in fact, has returned to the top of his game on the Stihl Timbersports Series and will be featured in Men’s Health Magazine this fall as the only professional lumberjack to return to competition after a kidney transplant is testament to the Pittsford Sutherland and FLCC product’s legendary drive and spirit.

But son is quick to note that his dad obviously gave him a very good spare part, a kidney that turns 70 Monday, Bill’s birthday. A kidney that connects the Jewetts this Father’s Day in a way where words don’t really need to be spoken.

“He’s in such great shape,” said Dave of his dad, a retired Kodak engineer who stays fit by hiking, biking, canoeing and fly-fishing. “I watch him and think, ‘I’ve got a 70-year-old kidney keeping me going?’ But he’s in better shape than a lot of my buddies.”

Father and son are pragmatic, get-’er-done kind of men, so deep discussions about the kidney transplant don’t occur much — not even as the fifth anniversary approaches.

“Neither one of us gets too sentimental,” said Dave Jewett, now 43, who went into sudden kidney failure due to what doctors believed was an infection. “He’s so generous, he just shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. Every time my test results come back, I do let him know how well his kidney is doing and he gets pumped up about it. When things are going well in my life, I credit him.”

And things are going well for the lumberjack nicknamed “Super Dave.” Since his transplant, Jewett has won 10 titles of various kinds around the world and set a handful of new records (he now owns 25), mostly in his specialty disciplines — the single buck, springboard chop and hot saw.

In May, Jewett ran away with the all-around title at Stihl’s Northeast Qualifier in New Hampshire, earning him a spot in the U.S. Championships in Tennessee earlier this month, where he won two events and placed third overall.

That the 6-3, 220-pound Jewett can put fear into his lumberjack peers, many who outweigh him by 100 pounds and look like they’ve swallowed Babe the Blue Ox, has long made him one of his sport’s most inspirational stories. That he continues to do so as a transplant patient makes him a symbol of hope and a case study for his doctors.

“At events, if someone hears the story, they will come out of the crowd and go, ‘Oh my God, my dad’s facing a transplant and he feels his life is over; I can’t wait to tell him about you,’ ” said Jewett, who is sponsored by Rochester’s Wilson Hardware. “That’s always cool and it’s a reminder for me that ‘Oh yeah, I had a kidney transplant.’ I usually just take my meds and forget about it.’’

In gearing up for this timbersports season, Jewett didn’t forget the value of hard work.

He played indoor soccer, cycled, lifted weights and chopped wood. He split 100 cords over the winter, about 50,000 swings. And in between operating his Christmas tree and rustic furniture businesses, he ate. Having dropped 45 pounds after his surgery, Jewett was able to put on muscle mass.

“I just wanted to see how much I could push it,” said Jewett, who is thankful he doesn’t need the steroidal medications that ruin the quality of life for many transplant recipients.

He knew things were going well when at the Stihl regionals he actually got faster in pulling a crosscut saw.

“I’ve never been better than one stroke a second,” he said. “But I got that down to .9 seconds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a huge deal in timbersports.”

In 2010, Jewett made history by becoming one of the few Americans to ever make the final of a prestigious sawing and chopping world event in Sydney, Australia, placing second to New Zealand great and longtime rival Jason Wynyard in the single buck.

Dave called that his “biggest feat,” since his transplant when just returning to compete is a feat worthy of a standing ovation. And there are no plans to retire anytime soon.

Timbersports aren’t mainstream, but there’s a decent living to be made in these tributaries, especially for Jewett, who also works as a popular TV commentator for ESPNU’s Stihl collegiate series. A sport where one can be a factor into his 50s.

Functioning on a kidney 27 years older than the rest of his body doesn’t scare Super Dave. While riding his bike one day, he found himself pedaling harder and harder. “I told my surgeon I was riding as fast now as when I was 19 years old, is that possible?’’ Jewett said. “He goes, ‘You tell me.’ Even the doctors aren’t sure what can be done.”

Bill Jewett turns 70 Monday. So does a part of his son. A gift of life that keeps on giving.