Using his great-grandfather's forge, found half-buried on the family farm in Gilmanton, Wis., Brian Rognholt, of Rochester, began his journey as a blacksmith. His self-taught instruction came from a combination of book-reading and hands-on experience. Early on he discovered that "plant hooks sell better than $4,000 swords."
However, with a burgeoning collection of swords, beginning with replicas and eventually antiques, Brian found himself drawn to creating his own. Fast forward to this fall, when Rognholt made his national television debut.
Rognholt competed on "Forged in Fire," a History Channel series, on Oct. 24. The premise of the show has four blacksmiths in an elimination-round competition. Brian's three competitors were all professionals by trade. Brian in contrast, with an MBA and training in medical technology, spends his days in a laboratory at Mayo Clinic working with the "finest blood bankers."
The competition was physically and mentally rigorous. Working on a set with four active forges, each over 2,000 degrees, under the scrutiny of judges, lights, cameras and a ticking clock was intense.
"It was unbelievably hot and loud," he said. He found himself "in a different world. Place a known commodity into an alien setting where none of the tools are yours."
Filming took place in New York in July. Round 1 gave the contestants three hours to make a blade; Rognholt survived the cut.
In Round 2, the three remaining competitors were tasked with making a handle, which had to pass cutting, stabbing, and strength tests. Rognholt's dagger broke while attaching the handle. Using the stress-management skills he needs daily in his medical work life, Rognholt didn't panic. Instead of "woe is me, I had to deploy Plan D because Plans A, B, and C didn't work." And Rognholt, once again, survived.
For the final round, Rognholt and David Mirabile, the two remaining blacksmiths, returned to their home forges. In five days, Rognholt made the Knights Templar Crusader sword. Working 10 hours a day under the supervision of a cameraman and producer was grueling. Never before had he worked so intensely day after day.
The final round found Rognholt's sword put through another series of tests. While he was not crowned the champion, "I made him (Mirabile) work for his win," Rognholt said. Truly a gentleman in competition, Rognholt praised Mirabile's blade, acknowledging its quality.
Earning second place among professionals felt like winning to Rognholt. Never before in the show's history has a contestant been allowed to keep the sword produced on the program. Rognholt was given his sword and he brought it home to Rochester, saying it was better than the $10,000 prize money.
What led him to the televised competition? "I did it to promote the craft," he said. "It's not a dying art, just an unknown one."
Check out Rognholt's fine craftsmanship on his website, odinforge.com.
From pulpit to plays and pizza
After 30 years in the pulpit, what's a retired priest to do?
Nick Mezacapa recently spoke to a middle-aged crowd in Fargo, N.D., urging the audience to cultivate a passion or activity early in life to use as a stepping-stone into the next stage of life.
That is exactly what "Father Nick" himself spent his career doing. When he wasn't preaching, he was acting and speaking and engaging with the community.
Several times a month, Mezacapa works as an actor at the Mayo Clinic Multidisciplinary Simulation Center; playing various patient roles, his acting skills allow "current docs to sharpen their skills."
Community theater is another passion. Hope to see him on the stage? Nick will be in the Absolute Theater's winter production of "Mayhem and Murder at Manchester Manor."
Hungry? You can find Nick serving up pizza at Pasquale's Neighborhood Pizzeria, and with every slice comes conversation and a warm smile.
Having passions has been a "saving grace" for Mezacapa. He just knew "twiddling" his thumbs in "retirement" wasn't going to be his thing.
See Jane win
Congratulations to Jane Cerhan, featured in last week's column. No longer "just" a finalist, her clever caption won the New Yorker weekly cartoon contest.
See it online: tinyurl.com/y8a7kt2r.