I completed a secured foot lock in less than 20 seconds. Basically, this is where you climb 50 feet up a rope without touching the tree that it's tied to. You use the rope and knot to guide yourself up. It's like being a large caterpillar - feet up, push, reach with your arms and pull … feet up, push, reach with your arms and pull. And 20 seconds is only 6 seconds more than the world record score of 13.8 seconds. Being fast is one of the things that got me here. After competing in tree climbing competitions for eight years, I finally qualified to be one of the 39 male competitors to make it to the International Tree Climbing Competition Presented by Davey Tree - held at The Morton Arboretum in Chicago this year.
When you watch the video, 19 seconds looks pretty fast. Luckily, my brother - who also climbs trees - videotaped my performance so I can see where I need to improve. But it's hard not to overanalyze the mistake I make at the beginning - just a slight slip. It cost me at least a second or two. When you are competing against the best in the world, it makes sense to track your mistakes so you can do better next time.
While the competition is not exactly like what I do everyday, it takes what I do and magnifies it. I'm a professional arborist for The Davey Tree Expert Company in Pennsylvania. When trees require pruning to maintain safe clearance around electrical wires, or need emergency maintenance after a storm, I climb up the tree and through its branches to fix the problem. Many times, I use an aerial truck. With storms and such, there are always hazardous situations on the job and so we also need to be on our guard at all times. It can be dangerous work. I think that's why most of the competition's events - five rounds, to be exact - focus on not only speed and efficiency but also safety techniques. You must look natural and fluid as you climb but you must also properly - and quickly - assess risk. Points are given or taken away based on this. It makes wonderful sport of the art of safe climbing and tending trees.
I placed 23rd out of 39 in the men's competition this year. I think I did well. My goal is to continue improving every year.
My motivation next year: Australia. This competition travels all around the world, and next year it's in Australia. I will train more so I can make it to that one.
Above all else, my real motivation comes from my wife, Faith, and 2-year-old son, Levi. They were here to cheer me on - my son loves playing with my hardhat. And I was able to meet other climbers and arborists - the best in the world - who I've been looking up to for years. At 29 years old, I have another 20 years left in me. I'll keep on competing and improving every year.