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Seen and Heard: 'There are more blacksmiths in town than you realize'

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How does Rochester have so many accomplished blacksmiths? Jeff Wagnaar is the second from here to appear on the TV sword-making competition "Forged in Fire."
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"There are more blacksmiths in town than you realize," says Jeff Wagenaar, of Rochester. Earlier this month, Jeff was the second Rochester resident featured on the History Channel’s popular program, "Forged in Fire." ( Brian Rognholt, also of Rochester, was the first .)

Growing up in Iowa, Jeff frequently found himself "tinkering around in the garage," he said. Now a power lineman for RPU, his fine-tuned tinkering skills resulted in earning the title "Forged in Fire Champion" on the March 20 episode.

Jeff applied to appear on the program in February 2017 and was selected to participate and film last summer. His greatest disappointment was the date his episode finally aired. John L. Adams, founder of Rochester Welding, was Jeff’s source of welding steel. Unfortunately, he passed away on Jan. 2.

"He was my biggest fan and couldn’t wait to see the episode," Jeff said. "His face lit up every time we talked about it. Made me so sad he couldn’t be there to see it with me."

During the initial filming, Jeff experienced such physical pain, he was tempted to quit. After two of the four competitors were eliminated, Jeff and his remaining opponent were tasked with creating the Schiavona, a popular 17th century Italian sword. Per the rules of the competition, Jeff’s winning sword remained with the show. He hopes to see it again, as many of the champion swords are featured on the set of later episodes.

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While Jeff’s time on "Forged" was intense and grueling, he says, "I’d do it again in a heartbeat."

Pint-sized powerhouse

After battling leukemia at age 2, first grader Myla Mason is still fighting strong . This Rochester 7-year-old is one determined youngster. Her father, Chad Mason, introduced the Brazilian martial art Gracie jiu-jitsu to Myla as a means to instill confidence in his shy daughter before she started school.

Chad, as Myla’s primary teacher, says that it has "empowered Myla to become outgoing."

The Mason family works with GRACIEkids, a program that combines martial arts with an anti-bullying focus. Jiu-jitsu is non-violent and children are taught not to hurt the bully and to avoid a fight at all cost.

Verbal bullying is addressed in three parts: talk, tell (a trusted adult), and tackle (with words). Parents are trained in the philosophy so as to provide additional to support to their children.

Myla’s commitment to jiu-jitsu is unwavering. She recently traveled to California to test for her yellow belt. Her favorite part of the trip was "seeing Rener (grandson of Helilo Gracie, creator of Gracie jiu-jitsu) and being able to do jiu-jitsu with him."

Prior to her travels earlier this month, she trained for 160 days without a break. Much to Myla’s annoyance, after the testing, her father insisted she take a couple days off.

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In addition to martial arts, Myla also participates in gymnastics at JETS. Her dad says the two sports "complement one another."

Myla’s main goals are to earn her black belt and "help other kids not be bullied."

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Myla Mason, center, with her dad, Chad, left, and instructor Rener Gracie has used jiu-jitsu to build confidence as she recovers from leukemia.

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