As you approach the situation, you go through many scenarios in your head.
You think about them before the competition too, but you don't know which ones will work until you know the actual situation you'll be presented.
It's the aerial rescue - the most technical and difficult of the International Tree Climbing Competition's five major events. And the people who come up with the event scenario like to keep you on your toes.
During the aerial rescue, judges set up a simulated emergency situation in a tree where you rescue a hanging 110-pound dummy. You have to not only be fast, but go through the proper rescue protocol, which includes assessing the victim, calling 9-1-1, assessing the tree and your gear and then proceeding with the rescue. You can score points for making sure you follow each procedure, and you can lose points for forgetting basic, necessary tasks even if it increases your speed. You have to keep your head, follow the rules, think each move through, and stay on top of the situation to bring the injured climber down from the tree. You have to do things very safely and efficiently because you are being timed … and watched by six judges, not to mention the large crowd of onlookers attending the event, held this year at The Morton Arboretum.
This year's scenario used a single-line rope device versus a double-line rope system, so immediately this was a big challenge for me. In my everyday work as an arborist for Massachusetts-based Hartney Greymont, a Davey company, I typically use double-line devices. A single-line device is a less common, gear-intensive way to ascend a tree, so this event was far more intricate than usual.
Once I knew the scenario (the day before the event), I quickly came up with three different ways to get the dummy down from the tree. And I kept changing my mind on which one I was going to use until it was my turn … and then I just went.
That's when the crowd becomes your ally. I could hear friends and the other women I was competing with cheering me on, reminding me of things I might typically forget. It was great to hear those familiar voices and encouragement. I was able to filter out anything that could have been a possible distraction.
This event proves that each year they can - and will - throw anything at you. But it's good to learn something new. It keeps you thinking about safety, and rescue techniques and procedures. It keeps your mind fresh.
By the end of the competition I was exhausted. I trained for this and practiced the aerial rescue specifically beforehand, but I think how you place in the end comes down to a bit of luck as well.
But I love to climb. It's why I got into this business. In fact, I got the opportunity to climb a 275-foot Douglas fir in Oregon with my fiancé and some friends. We even slept in the tree about 75 feet up. It was like a fairy tale. We tied ropes into hammocks - almost like a spider web. We were tied up and slept comfortably the whole night. It's incredible.
There are beautiful, tiny ecosystems in trees that you can see in that proximity that you can't see from the ground. And the view is amazing. I was in a tree no one else had ever climbed.
I started competing as soon as I got into this industry in 2006. But these experiences in trees are why I climb. And they are why I'll continue to compete and stay a sharp, smart, safe and efficient arborist for years to come.