EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2009

Danville sisters at home in pageants, woodsmen contests

Sisters showcase talent dancing and swinging axes

By Terry Date

Some might see the pastimes as complete opposites.

But two Danville sisters relish both their pageants and their woodsmen competitions. Each of them feels at ease holding a microphone or an ax, wearing fingernail polish or blue jeans.

At practice last week, University of New Hampshire woodsmen team members Christiann Unger, 21, and Arielle Unger, 18, ripped a two-handled cross-cut saw through a log in subfreezing temperatures, their blond hair tossing and the sawdust flying.

The saw teeth sounded like deep inhales and exhales as it shot back and forth outside the Thompson School sawmill in Durham.

Teammates say the Unger girls are well suited for their dual interests.

"It fits their character," teammate Eric Ratlof said. "They are both really outgoing and outdoorsy."

Teammate Katie Noyes recalled partnering with Arielle in the vertical chop event at the UNH fall meet in November.

Noyes said both she and Arielle were nervous before they started whacking away at the log, one on each side, trying to chop it in half ahead of other teams.

"She was really focused and had people cheering her on," Noyes said.

Christiann, a graduate of Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Mass., has been competing in pageants since she was 17, winning the Miss Gate City crown in Nashua and competing in the Miss New Hampshire pageant in 2008.

Arielle, who also attended Central Catholic but graduated last year from Timberlane Regional High School, has been competing in pageants since she was 17.

Arielle hasn't won a crown yet, but won the best smile and most congenial at the Kingston/Seacoast Pageant last year.

The sisters are jacks of all trades.

Both of them dance. Christiann tap dances. Arielle has been performing since she was 3 years old. At pageant talent competitions, she does a jazz dance.

She first learned to use a log splitter at age 5 or 6.

The family lives on a three-acre lot in Danville, and they cleared an acre of it themselves.

Arielle, who bench pressed 135 pounds three times as a high school senior one day in gym, gets enlisted at home to move heavy objects — like large air-conditioning units from floor to floor.

Their mom, Debbie, calls Arielle her "little ox."

"She's freakishly strong," Christiann said.

Christiann says her sister takes more after their dad, David, who has worked as a landscaper.

Christiann says she takes after her mom, who sews and designs clothes, and makes jewelry.

If Christiann sees something she likes in a store, such as a piece of jewelry, she can make it instead of buying it.

"I could probably build a house, landscape the lot, and decorate the interior," she said.

Christiann, a biology major, has earned $5,000 in scholarship money from pageants.

Arielle has been to all but one of her sister's 35 pageants. She saw the fun her sister was having at pageants and woodsmen competitions, and decided to follow her footsteps.

Ever the big sister, Christiann looks out for Arielle.

At practice, Arielle, a business major, donned clinkers — protective metal guards that fit over a competitor's feet and shins — and climbed atop a wood block before lifting her ax overhead

Christiann walked over to her sister and whispered, "Be careful."

The two sisters do snipe at each other. Earlier, they took turns nailing a wooden block to a stand. Arielle struggled with a few swings so her sister took the hammer from her.

After Christiann miss-swung once, Arielle said, "You are suppose to hit the nail on the head."

For all the differences between pageants and timber games, the Unger sisters see some similarities — teamwork, for instance.

Arielle said people might think pageant contestants are overly catty, but contestants actually root for one another.

Christiann said fellow contestants cried for happiness when she finally won a pageant after more than 30 tries.

Arielle and Christiann said woodsmen members cheer the loudest for competitors who lag behind the field, adding camaraderie to competition.

Chris Robarge, an assistant coach of the woodsmen team, said the team follows Christiann and Arielle's progress in pageants.

But for now, the two sisters are sharpening their skills to help their team in upcoming woodsmen competitions. The next one is at the University of Maine on March 28.

The local pageants will resume in May and June.

Atop a wood block, Arielle called to her sister.

"Chris, I might need your hair elastic," she said.

Arielle lowered the steel, sinking it into the wood. With each thunk, another slice of wood flew to the ground.

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