JESUS WALKED on water. Mandy Erdmann runs—albeit along a string of slippery, spinning logs. Boom running, as her sport is called, might appear miraculous to some. But for Erdmann, a 24-year-old University of Minnesota nursing student, the prospect of dashing back and forth on a string of western red cedar logs is hardly daunting. At age 17, she did just that, covering more than 100 feet in 15.57 seconds and earning a world title in the process.
Unlike champions in more high-profile sports, Erdmann doesn’t have a multi-million-dollar endorsement deal, a clothing line, or a loyal fan following. She lives a modest life in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood and each day drives her 1991 Chrysler New Yorker to Hudson, Wisconsin, to train with childhood friends in an outdoor pool. Boom running and its partner event, logrolling, may seem the domain of beefy backwoodsmen, but Erdmann defies the stereotypes people have. “They think I’m going to be this huge woman,” says Erdmann, who looks less like Paul Bunyan than the gymnast she was as a teen. Still, don’t credit her interest in logrolling with time spent teetering on the beam. Erdmann has been logrolling since age 6 and boom running since age 16.
Her agility and the fact that she’s bowlegged have helped make Erdmann a six-time world champion in the boom run. Clad in spike-encrusted shoes, she races dock to dock along the logs with relative ease as others totter and tip off. It’s exhilarating for both participants and fans. But Erdmann’s chances to show off her skill and earn the prize money that funds her education and pays her rent are few—and dwindling, it seems. When ESPN canceled this year’s Great Outdoor Games, only five competitions were left. Erdmann has participated in all of them over the years and will defend her title at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater from July 21 to 23.
When Erdmann moved to Minnesota to attend St. Olaf College in 2000, she brought along her log and parked it in the campus pool. While other students played Frisbee golf, Erdmann taught friends to logroll, including some hockey players who were quickly humbled—and soaked. “They’re just not coordinated like that,” Erdmann says. Her own sense of balance was challenged during a semester spent in England, where she tried to train on a carpet-covered tube, set up on a cement floor. It spun so fast that Erdmann feared for the safety of her limbs. “It did not work at all,” she remembers.
Erdmann, who plans to pursue a career in pediatric oncology when she finishes her studies at the U, hopes to compete well into middle age. “For me, the boom run was just a natural talent,” she says. “I would rather run on logs than run on land.”
Lisa Gulya is an editorial intern at Minnesota Monthly.