Shea Emry, former Alouettes linebacker, now teaches axe throwing
Fought depression issues after football career ended
By Adam Kreek, CBC Sports
Shea Emry was a Montreal Alouettes linebacker before too many hard hits concussed him out of the game. These days he’s throwing axes — and teaching other men how to do it.
Even before pro football, Emry had lumber in his veins. He comes from a long line of men who have been involved in the forestry industry, including his great-great grandfather who was a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest. No wonder he finds chopping wood to be an authentic and healthy way to connect to his masculinity.
“When you’re throwing an axe, as hard as you can, into a block of nice, soft wood, you’re getting rid of anger and aggression,” Emry said. “And channeling negative emotions and energies out of your body, as opposed to going to a pub, getting in a fight and doing it that way.
“It feels good — and it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
Guys can be guys
Emery is an ambassador for the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation and actively promoted Canadian Men’s Health Week in June. The week before Father’s Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the unique health issues that men face. Research shows that men don’t visit their doctors enough, and are less likely to reach out for help when they are experiencing mental or physical trauma.
Men are also more likely to die of a drug overdose than in a car crash, and have rates of cardiovascular disease, suicide and cancer far above the national average.
“There are not a whole lot of things men can do where they can just be men,” Emry said. “We want guys to feel comfortable just being themselves.”
Axe throwing? Oh yeah: Count me in. “Can I wear flannel while I do it?” I ask.
“Of course,” replied Emery. “It’s encouraged.”
Dealing with depression
In 2013, Emery created Wellmen, an outdoor adventure and personal development program for guys. But it was also for himself: “I didn’t know who I was outside of the CFL arena. I was depressed. Football was taken away from me.”
Wellmen was a way for Emry to reconnect with his purpose and with other men in a setting that is both epic and safe.
It’s taken a while for Emry to find his groove. The first Wellmen invitation he sent out drew four takers, none of whom were his friends.
Three years later, he’s found his target throwing axes. Not only does he lead professional development retreats, he hosts an axe throwing challenge at the top of Grouse Mountain near Vancouver, and organizes an axe throwing league on Bowen Island in B.C.’s Howe Sound. He’s even been hired to host axe throwing at a wedding.
Emry is also throwing his axe to challenge hyper-masculine stereotypes. “When you’re throwing an axe, you’re not thinking about anything else,” said Emry, who is a firm believer in mindfulness, yoga and detaching from limiting beliefs. He finds that throwing an axe puts you in a powerful, focused state.
“You’re not thinking about work, you’re not thinking about the kids. You’re present.”
Emry’s 6 axe-throwing tips:
1. Focus. Throwing an axe is dangerous. Safely picking up the axe is the most important part.
2. Extend. Hold the axe straight in front of you with one hand
3. Aim. Look through the head of the axe directly at the target
4. Load. Bring the axe back over your head
5. Throw. Uncoil your cocked arm. Hurl the axe towards the target
6. Release. Just let it go — have a clean release towards the target