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Westmoreland ax throwers sharpen skill for national tourney |

Westmoreland ax throwers sharpen skill for national tourney

Renatta Signorini
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Blake Gibasiewicz, of White Oak, and a member of the Valhalla axe throwing league, cleans up a sticker logo on the head of his long axe before beginning a practice session at Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Hempfield. Gibasiewicz is one of five team members traveling to compete in the national indoor axe throwing championships in Toronto, Ontario on Feb. 16.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Valhalla axe throwing league members Lucas “Spartan” Palumbi, throws a long-handled axe, known as a tie-breaker throw, during a practice session at Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Hempfield. Five team members, including Palumbi, are traveling to compete in the national indoor axe throwing championships in Toronto, Ontario on Feb. 16.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Paul Wedge, of Irwin, (background right), and James Saul, of West Newton, both members of the Valhalla axe throwing league, throw during a practice session at Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Hempfield. Five team members from Valhalla axe throwing league, the only league in western Pennsylvania, are traveling to compete in the national indoor axe throwing championships in Toronto, Ontario on Feb. 16.

Paul Wedge has been practicing morning, afternoon and evening for the national ax-throwing championships.

The Westmoreland City man remembers how tough the competition was last year when he first qualified through Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing in Hempfield.

“This year, I’m a lot more mentally prepared and I know what to expect,” he said. “If I make it past the second round this year, I’ll be happy.”

Wedge, 41, also known as “Lord Wedge Stick,” and four others who throw axes at Valhalla will compete at the 2019 National Axe Throwing Championship on Sunday . They are among 192 competitors from around the world who qualified for the final round of the eighth annual tournament in Toronto.

The winner will get their name engraved on the Wilson Cup and $20,000 will be split among the top 12 finishers.

Even if he doesn’t get a cut of the money, Kevin Darragh, 44, of Jeannette knows it will be a good time.

“It’s a competition, but also a community event,” said Darragh, who competes under the nickname “Wulfgar.”

Competitors stand at least 14 feet away from a wooden target and throw an ax at it, earning points depending on where it lands. A competitor will throw five axes per round for three rounds.

“I like it because of the team aspect of it,” Darragh said. “We are in competition together, but it’s like we are a family.”

Lucas Palumbi, 37, of Irwin, will be competing as “Spartan.”

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a good stress reliever,” he said. “I am very excited, or can I say axe-cited.”

Darragh and Wedge will be competing in their second championship. It’s the first time for Palumbi and Blake “Balakay” Gibasiewicz, 27, of White Oak. James “Floki” Saul, 30, of West Newton qualified for the second time, but is unable to make the competition. He will be replaced by Alicia “Freya” Metz, 28, of Hempfield.

“It is very humbling because these guys that you’re up against, they’ve been doing it for years,” Saul said of last year’s competition. “Just watching them throw, their level of skill is something I aspire to.”

Metz, a co-owner of Valhalla, has been upping practice sessions for her first time competing in the championships. She’s been working about an hour daily with a bigger ax that is used for tie-breakers.

“At that level, you can pretty much expect to go into tie-breaker,” she said.

Gibasiewicz also has been practicing more, too — missing a throw is not an option. He qualified as a wild card.

“You don’t hope for yourself to make a mistake, you hope for the other guy to make a mistake,” he said.

Fundraising all year helped to defray costs of the trip for the competitors.

Palumbi’s brother, James, 45, of Saxonburg will participate in the skills competition, a separate event from the championship. James Palumbi said there are four categories in that competition, including a timed event and doubles, in which the brothers will throw together.

Both men said they were competitive growing up.

“We still are,” James Palumbi said laughing.

“For me, going there with my brother is extremely awesome,” Lucas Palumbi said.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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