Great tree climbing is all about momentum, according to one competitive climber.
“It’s a lot like life,” said T.C. Mazar, an arborist from Pennsylvania, who traveled to Belleville for a four-day competition this weekend.
“Let’s just be honest: everything doesn’t work out the way we want it to,” he said. “You get in there and your plan starts to develop. There might be aspects of it that don’t develop the way that you had maybe anticipated, so you’re forced to immediately make decisions that are going to impact the rest of the climb and those are decisions you’re going to have to deal with for the rest of the climb.”
It’s a constant struggle, Mazar said, but it all pays off when you find the rhythm.
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“Man, there really is a moment when you’re having a really good climb and you develop this momentum that I’m talking about and everything’s really working out,” he said. “As a competitive climber, that’s really what you’re chasing: that really great climb.”
The climbers are put into simulated work scenarios that arborists, who trim, cut and care for trees, may face on a daily basis.
In a series of four trees, with 10 to 20 bells attached to each, climbers race to scale the tree, ring as many bells as they can, climb down and clear the area in 30 minutes. There are 60 climbers competing for cash prizes of $5,000 or $1,000.
All of the competition climber spots have been filled, but the event is open to anyone who’d like to watch a tree climber in action.
There are many activities the public can participate in, too, including an obstacle course, rope swings and zip lines into the lake, inflatable bouncy houses, the “human crane” game and more. Live musical performances will also take place each night, including local band Old Salt Union on Sunday.
Children will also have the opportunity to climb a tree — but not as high as the professionals — using a real safety harness and other equipment.
Arborist and competitive climber Krista Strating, of Ontario, Canada, climbed trees as a child and was never afraid of heights.
She’s been climbing for about eight years as a professional and said she’s found a family-like comradery in the small industry.
“We’re all in it together even though we’re all over the world,” she said. “There’s just a mutual respect between everybody, because everyone knows what it’s like to be in the industry and work as a climbing arborist. It’s very intense. It’s nice to have that support system, and we learn a lot from each other, too.”
Mazar said he’s “not a world champ or anything...just a man with a rope and a saddle,” but the champions he watched compete online years ago peaked his interest in the field at a time when he had to make decisions about his career.
He worked in golf courses doing some landscaping and studied English in college. He said he had a lot of debt when he graduated and wanted a “sustainable profession.”
“You’re pulling weeds or putting in perennials, and you see these badass dudes walking around with their gear and you’re like, ‘that’s definitely what I want to do,’” he said.
Strating also started in landscaping and eventually met an arborist who trained her. Mazar, on the other hand, taught himself in his spare time on the golf course.
Mazar said he’s found the sustainable profession he wanted, and the competitive aspect of the industry is a major bonus.
“I think there’s a lot of guys out there that do what we do that don’t know that this exists, that don’t know really how cool it is,” he said. “They don’t even realize that what they’re doing can be so cool. It’s just a job for them.”
For months leading up to JAMBO, Mazar said he’s been dreaming of the great climb and all the people he couldn’t wait to meet. A lot of the climbers communicated online through forums and social media before meeting in person this weekend. Mazar said the most memorable moment so far has been driving in, seeing the faces of his online friends.
“It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you sit on Santa’s lap for the first time. It’s like, ‘wow, he’s real. I could touch him.’ It’s so incredible,” he said. “You finally put a face to these people. I would say meeting these people that I’ve previously known but only through this like digital media, that’s what JAMBO is. It’s the human factor.”
That human factor, and how passionate those humans are about their jobs, is why TreeStuff.com President Luke Dunlevy loves his job.
“These people are really passionate about their own little niche. You don’t get that in many industries,” he said. “You don’t see painters gathering around, painting houses as fast as they can.”
Dunlevy’s first introduction to the industry was from his parents, who have been in tree service for 30 years.
“I kind of grew up in it,” he said. He was never a climber, though.
He was involved in the retail side of his family’s business, and the more he met arborists, the more he grew to love the field.
“I was very moved by people’s passion and dedication to their industry,” he said. “I thought that was pretty spectacular. ... That’s what I responded to.”
A whole family of tree climbers, the Meurer’s, brought TreeStuff.com to Belleville.
Meurer Brothers Tree Care Professionals, 5031 Frank Scott Parkway, own the Meurer Family Compound where JAMBO takes place.
Josh Meurer, of the Meurer Brothers company, said he and his brothers have been climbing “since we could walk.”
He isn’t putting his 25 years of climbing experience to the test this weekend, though.
“My climbing days are coming to an end,” Meurer said, but he looked forward to spending time getting to know the climbers this weekend.
Contact reporter Lexi Cortes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2514.
Want to go?
When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Where: Meurer Family Compound, 2437 Park Road, Belleville
How much: Free