Where other young couples might share a romantic dinner by candlelight, a night out for Mikki and Chris Lord could very well involve, and actually has, chain sawing by torchlight.
The unorthodox evening is all part and parcel of life for the 23-year-olds, two of New Zealand's top axe "men". As bonkers as it sounds, it's doubly so when they laughingly explain the "torchlight" came from their mobile phones.
It was a case of needs must really. They both work – Mikki's a primary school teacher, Chris an engineer at a limestone plant − and in winter, when the sun drops below the horizon before 5.30pm, there's little time to practise during daylight hours.
Plus, the inaugural Stihl Timbersports New Zealand Ladies Championship was looming.
"So yeah, we were out there revving the chainsaw at 6.30pm in the dark," tells Mikki, "with two phone torches and the house lights on."
But the twilight training was to no avail – Mikki was disqualified in the first round.
The high-school sweethearts, who have been together since they were 16, were married in January. And while axes weren't raised in a guard of honour, they did feature in a number of the wedding photographs, including the cutting of their double-tiered cake!
Chris first picked up an axe as a nine-year-old after he was given a small one for his birthday, and yes, he laughs, he is – like many of New Zealand's top woodchoppers – a chip off an older block. His dad, Chris Snr, chopped for five years before a nasty injury saw him move into the administration side of the sport.
In the 14 years he's been swinging an axe, Chris has picked up numerous national and international titles and awards, and has chopped in more than a dozen trans-Tasman race events.
Last year, he was named the Stihl Timbersports New Zealand Rookie Champion, and in May he took out the Stihl Timbersports World Rookie Championship held in Sweden, winning the title by a miniscule 0.23 seconds, with his proud wife by his side.
Mikki says she knew Chris was seriously into wood-chopping when they first got together.
"He had muscles and nobody else did. True story!"
Her entry into the sport came a couple of years later.
"I got sick of sitting on the sidelines watching Chris competing every weekend, so I asked if I could have a go," she says.
Mikki borrowed a small, light axe from Chris, who patiently taught her the intricacies of the various disciplines – the underhand chop, the standing block, the springboard and the hot saw (chain sawing).
Her first "real" axe was a gift from Masterton axe merchant Eddie Fawcett, who helped establish the New Zealand U-21 Axemen's Association, and who saw enormous potential in the young woodchopper.
"Turns out, I wasn't so bad at it," she tells.
In fact, Mikki was so good, she got selected as a member of the national women's team, the Axeferns, in 2016 and picked up an Annual Achievement Award at the Royal Sydney Show.
The show is wood-chopping's Wimbledon, though Mikki points out axe men and women quench their thirst with something a little more Kiwi than the Champagne preferred by tennis crowds: "We go for beers afterwards."
The sport can be expensive – an axe can cost upwards of $800 and a saw $2000-plus, and then there's the travel costs and the uniforms.
There have been no nasty injuries, though they have a library of anecdotes about the misfortunes of others, ranging from the "blood everywhere" shin slice to the "toes hanging off in their shoes".
There's also been very little mansplaining, with women very much accepted into the sport, according to Mikki.
"You'll get guys coming up to you and suggesting things that might help, but it will always, always be positive."
The couple practise up to five times a week in the lead-up to woodchopping season, supplementing it with strength and fitness training at the gym.
While Mikki reckons they are not competitive with each other – "he'd smoke me every time" – competing together in the Jack and Jill sawing race can test their mettle.
Says Chris, "We'll be lining up for the Jack and Jill and I'll get told, 'We better bloody win this!'"
Still, you can bet these two will continue to win titles and awards in the future, be it together or separately, and if and when they have children, they'll be joining their parents in their exploits.
"Our babies would definitely be woodchoppers, definitely," laughs Mikki.
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