Local tree climbers reach new heights at statewide competition

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Earlier this month, a popular childhood pastime was notched up to professional heights at a statewide competition just outside of Naperville.

29 local climbers spent a sunny spring weekend at the Illinois Arborist Association’s (IAA) 2024 Tree Climbing Championship at St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville, 2S541 Winfield Rd, on May 18 and 19.

Five preliminary events lead up to the master’s challenge

All of the competition’s participants are trained arborists. Each took part in five tree-climbing events: throwline, work climb, belayed speed climb, ascent, and an aerial rescue.

“The aerial rescue is one of those events to help people understand how you should rescue your co-worker if something happens in a tree,” said competition organizer and judge Eduardo Medina.

Medina has been involved with the championship since its inception in 1976.

“The main idea of the event is educational,” said Medina. “So we could help people to understand what is tree climbing about and how to do (it) safely.”

Once the preliminaries wrapped up, the highest-scoring competitors scaled the forest preserve’s heights in the master’s challenge.

The men’s and women’s winners – Beau Nagan and Libby Bower – will represent the IAA at an international competition in New Zealand.

First-year competitor takes home a third-place trophy

Oak Park resident Katie Fleming has been climbing trees for the past five years. She participated in her first IAA Tree Climbing Championship this year – and finished in third place.

“I was very nervous this morning, but now that I’ve done a handful of events, it’s not that bad,” said Fleming. “Once you’re up in a tree, it’s very peaceful and calming.”

But for a first-timer like me… not so much.

“You know what? I think this is good.”

Though the stakes are high, Fleming emphasized the positive competitive nature of the tree-climbing community.

“What’s awesome about the industry is that everyone is so supportive and generous with sharing their knowledge and expertise, that it is a competition, yet no one really has that competitive edge to them because everyone is just here as a community.”

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