When Australian chainsaw carver Brandon Kroon flew to the U.S. in late July, heading for the U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship in Eau Claire, he didn’t expect to wind up in the hospital the first day of the competition.
“It was a bit disappointing,” Kroon told the Leader-Telegram. “It came out of nowhere.”
Kroon and 10 other chainsaw carvers from Japan, Lithuania, Ireland, Wales, Germany and the U.S. traveled to Eau Claire for the eighth year of the championship Aug. 1-4.
Competitors had four days, under 30 hours, to carve an eight-foot log into a sculpture at the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum in Carson Park; many carvings featured animals and woodland scenes.
Judges awarded top prizes, and proceeds from an auction of the pieces were split between the carvers and the museum.
Kroon is no newcomer to the Eau Claire championship, taking fourth place at the 2017 event.
But after arriving in Eau Claire for the 2019 championship, he went to Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire with stomach pain on Thursday, the first day of the competition.
“I went in for an MRI,” Kroon remembered. “They saw it was my appendix giving me all the trouble, and said we had to remove it straight away.”
Diagnosed with appendicitis, Kroon underwent surgery that day.
“That was the end of my competition,” he said.
Kroon was able to return to the four-day event Sunday to visit with the other competitors and watch the awards ceremony and auction, said Larry Doyle, event chair.
Many of the 10 other chainsaw artists are friends after competing together for years, Doyle said.
“These people run into each other,” Doyle said. “Japan has a huge sculpture competition just like ours, so some come from around the world to compete there (too).”
Those carvers decided to help Kroon out by postponing their own carvings Friday afternoon.
Thursday evening while Kroon was in the hospital, a couple artists and organizers proposed the idea to the group: “Right after their lunch break on Friday, they all took 30 minutes to carve a piece,” Doyle said. “(On Saturday) we auctioned all those pieces off first.”
The artists donated the money from those carvings to Kroon for his medical and travel expenses, Doyle said.
“Every one of them made a piece,” Doyle said.
Though Kroon wasn’t able to compete, sunny weather, audiences, the support of the local business community and many volunteers helped the championship end smoothly, Doyle said. Carver Steve Higgins of Missouri took first prize, after winning the top award in 2017.
Despite staying in Eau Claire for about a week after the competition to recover, Kroon hopes to return to the city for the next championship in 2021.
“I’d love to come back to compete all the way to the end,” he said. “It’s OK. I got some good care and I’m back on track.”