Missoula Passion Project

Passion Project Missoula

by Kate Trahan

In a world with unlimited options for recreation, it’s fascinating to learn how people develop their unique interests. As humans, we are capable of being passionate about hobbies and how we spend our free time. As Missoula is a real hub for niche hobbies and sports, I ventured across Missoula in search of some passionate folks who would let me in on why they love what they do.

The Axe Thrower  

My first interview was with Kate Page, a member of the UM Woodsmen Team. The team is usually made up of about 15-20 students who participate in Timber sports. For those of you like myself, who don’t know what Timber sports are, they are sports that take the traditional practices of logging and turn them into competitive events. It’s just as crazy as it sounds. The events include the axe throw, pole climb, chopping and birling (an activity where two people run on a log in the water. The goal: get the other person to fall in first).

(Photo by Kaemyn Meagher)





If you’re like me, these activities sound like a slight form of torture. I don’t know if I can even lift an axe above my head; much less hurl it at a target from long distances. So I wondered: why does Kate dedicate her time to this unique sport?

“Honestly I like feeling badass,” Kate said while she cracked a smile. I certainly would use that term as well if I was a female axe thrower. “I also really enjoy the history of it,” she continued. Kate is a forestry major from Oregon. Kate really enjoys that the sport is unique and not a lot of people do it and that it presents a challenge.

“Using a cross cut saw can be challenging and people don’t really understand that. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

The UM Woodsmen Team team travels and competes in Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, California and British Columbia, and they do it well. They have a practice arena at Fort Missoula where they can run through obstacle courses and drills to hone their skills. Practices are pretty laid back. But like most things, you get back what you put into it.

“Common interests, such as being outside and doing outdoor activities fills a void. We teach people how to do things outside with their hands, which is why they come to Montana,” said Kate.

This year, Missoula will host the 77th Conclave, a weeklong Timber Sports event sponsored by Stihl. Schools from all over come to compete and are shown on ESPN. The competition starts at Fort Missoula on April 27th.

The Triathlete

My second interview was with Elaine Marshall. Elaine is a triathlete and will be competing in her 4th Grizzly triathlon this April.


The Grizzly Triathlon is a sprint distance triathlon that consists of a 1,000-yard swim, 12-mile bike ride and a 5K run along the Kim Williams trail.

This race is certainly not for the faint of heart. Swimming 1,000 yards sounds like my own personal hell, but Elaine loves it. She started out as a swimmer in high school and got more into running and biking in college.

“I am passionate about it because training can improve your mental and physical health. I like having a goal to work towards,” said Elaine.

Elaine tries to train six days a week, but she makes sure she wants to do it and is not just forcing herself to.

“If I’m going to do it, I have to put it all out there” she said. “At the end of the race, hopefully the time is okay, and you can feel like you accomplished something.”


The Curler


I interviewed Barry Bollenback, the president of the Missoula Curling Club, who lights up when he talks about curling. Organized curling started in Missoula six years ago when a few folks created a Facebook event to come “Learn to Curl”. People instantly got hooked and the rest is history. Barry played hockey all of his life and enjoyed watching his sons play hockey in their youth. Barry says he took up curling because it’s a sport that you can play all of your life.


Curling is a sport that originates in Scotland. It consists of four people on each team and sixteen “stones” per game. Each player throws two stones while the other players use brooms to sweep in front of the stones and direct them to the “house” (a large circle on the ice). The object is to have more stones closer to the house than your opponents.


Though it sounds pretty simple, the sport is very strategic. “It is almost like chess on ice,” said Barry. “You don’t have to be strong but you have to be ready for a mental challenge.”

Barry is passionate about curling because it’s fun, mentally stimulating, unique, something you can play all of your life, and you can drink beer while doing it.

“You congratulate your opponent more than you congratulate yourself. And the winning team always buys the losing team their first beer.”  Now you’re speaking my language, Barry.

The Dancer

My fourth interview was with Kate Tryhas. (Keep in mind that you don’t have to be named Kate to be a part of this project, but it just so happens myself and two girls I interviewed are named Kate)

Kate is an OULA instructor at the Women’s Club.  OULA is a high-tempo dance workout that was started here in Missoula by Kali Linder.

Kate went to her first class four years ago at the YMCA. “You know the Freshman 15? Yeah, I was trying to avoid that, “ she said with a laugh. Kate fell in love OULA because it’s different from a traditional workout and there is a strong sense of community. OULA started in Missoula and has spread across the nation, with hundreds of instructors and even a line of apparel.

I decided to try my hand at OULA, with Kate as my instructor. I felt like I should apologize to everyone around me for having to witness my attempt at rhythm and movement. “The great thing about it is that it’s not about how it looks. It’s about how it feels, “said Kate.
After interviewing a number of people with nontraditional hobbies, I was fascinated. It was cool to catch a little glimpse of what is happening here in Missoula. In most cases what people liked about their particular sport had nothing really to do with the sport itself but with the challenge and the feeling they had from it. The fact that the sport was fun just seemed to be the icing on the cake.

5 Replies to “Missoula Passion Project”

  1. I enjoyed reading and learning about the ‘Life skill activities’ you featured in your article. As an older female I used to think I had missed any chance of participating in a fun challenging sport. But, I am encouraged after reading your interviews.
    I’ve also recently joined the YMCA. (through the ‘Live Strong’ program)
    And I have discovered many ‘non traditional’ activities that are quietly happening right here in my own home town. Great article.

  2. It should be noted in reference to the Bollenbacher interview that not only is curling a sport for ages 6 through your 90s, but it is gender neutral and available for those with disabilities. Yes, curling is a venue in the ParaOlympics. Barry has been instrumental in bringing and sustaining this wonderful sport to Missoula, but has been a major resource for other clubs that are just starting in the State. Congratulations on a great interview.

  3. way to go Kate! keep it up, we’re going to get a full time place to curl here one day, and I didn’t know the UM Woodsman Team was hosting that event until now, I’m going to watch some bad ass girls throw some axe, that’s cool!

  4. Yeah !!! To the curling teams especially the “Young” team.
    Their leader, my daughter, started curling in high school way up north in Alberta, Canada. We love curling here.
    I believe she has encouraged many young people, including her son, to learn this sport. It wasn’t even heard of in Missoula, until 6 years ago when her and Barry started talking about giving it a try. By the way, we don’t curl outside. So bravo !!!!

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