By Graham Hays
Mark Mirasol’s life changed forever during a road trip across the Western U.S. four years ago. The vacation, which began with a marriage proposal to his traveling companion and then-girlfriend Kristyn, ended with an additional surprise as they rolled into Wichita, Kansas, on the final night of their trip. Looking for a taste of local flavor, they visited an axe throwing facility on a whim.
“I was absolutely terrible at it,” laughs Mirasol, recalling his first attempts to throw an axe. “That’s one thing I sometimes leave out. But I’ve come to own it at this point. I was terrified of the axe bouncing back. I would throw and then recoil back. It has been an interesting journey from there to where I am now.”
Now happily married, the Mirasols are co-owners of The Lazy Axe throwing center in Albany, New York, and Mark is a world champion in the sport, having won the Big Axe Tournament in the 2021 World Axe Throwing Championship. It makes for the unlikeliest of origin stories. But with the skills he learned while earning a master’s at Peabody College of education and human development, Mirasol was prepared to turn an unexpected passion into a life-changing opportunity.
Statistics on rates of participation for axe throwing are hard to come by, although trend stories abound touting its rise as a niche pastime. Yet when the Mirasols discovered they still had the itch upon returning home, they found nowhere to throw near Albany. Their moment of entrepreneurial inspiration arrived after building a target in their backyard and seeing family and friends enjoy it.
“We were able to make a compelling case that it would be a unique entertainment business that we would be bringing to the Capital Region,” Mirasol says of convincing a bank to issue a loan for their business.
The Lazy Axe opened its doors in July 2019. Guests are welcome on their own, although groups make up much of the clientele—from bachelor and bachelorette parties to team-building work excursions and competitive leagues. Each first-time session begins with a quick tutorial.
“It’s not quite like a bowling alley, where you get shoes and a ball and you’re ready to go,” Mirasol says. “For us, safety is our top priority, and we realize it’s a new activity for most people coming in. So, we make it a point to teach new guests how to throw safely.”
Affiliated with the World Axe Throwing League, The Lazy Axe abides by that organization’s rules and regulations. The standard hatchet is 12-to-19 inches from the top to the bottom of the handle, with a blade length of less than 4 inches and a weight of less than 3 pounds. Guests throw at a target 12 feet away, roughly the ideal distance for an axe to make one rotation in flight. While it’s possible to stop by a store like Home Depot, buy a hickory handle hatchet and start competing, many companies also produce axes specifically designed for throwing.
These days, visitors to The Lazy Axe also see a golden axe hanging above the counter, the one that comes with winning one of the disciplines—hatchet, big axe or dual—in the World Axe Throwing League World Championships. Initially, Mirasol didn’t participate in any of the leagues or competitions at The Lazy Axe. A tennis player who still occasionally competes in World Team Tennis amateur competitions, he admits to having a bit of a competitive streak. That led Kristyn to ban him from axe competitions.
“She didn’t want me scaring folks away,” Mirasol jokes.
She eventually relented, if only so that their establishment’s best regular, Gary Dayter, would have some competition. In 2020, Mirasol and Dayter tied for fourth place in the dual discipline of the world championships. A year later, Mirasol won the world title in big axe.
At the time the Mirasols opened The Lazy Axe, Mark was working full time managing the math pathways program for the State University of New York system. (He still works for SUNY on a part-time basis.) But prior to that role, he was the associate dean for campus life at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. At Bard, he learned of Peabody’s 15-month master’s program in independent school leadership. He bookended two summers of study in Nashville around practical work during the school year at Bard.
He didn’t envision using the degree to run a small business. Then again, when he and Kristyn pulled into Wichita that night, he didn’t imagine he would ever be a world champion.
“Whether it’s financial responsibilities, administrative tasks or managing employees, even just the concept of ambitious teaching and learning is applicable to what we’re doing at The Lazy Axe,” Mirasol says. “That’s been really gratifying. There are so many transferable skills from education to the outside world and running my own business. In covering all the facets of running a school, honestly, there are very similar responsibilities in running a business.”
When a dream came calling, he had the tools to succeed. And an axe.