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International arborists take to the trees to test their mettle
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

John Meiszner of the Illinois chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, competes in the International Tree Climbing Championships on Sunday at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/26/2010 12:00 AM

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While climbing trees might bring you back to your childhood, officials and competitors at the International Tree Climbing Championships do not exactly consider it child's play. For third-generation arborist Mark Chisholm, it is a dangerous job that takes a lot of care and safety precautions to do well.

The Freehold, N.J., native was one of 55 competitors to spend Sunday in the trees of Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Chisholm has been at it for nearly 20 years and last month won the New Jersey chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture's tree climbing competition for the 18th consecutive year.

Although the competitors from across the world test their skills in several events, Chisholm said the largest role the competition plays is as a forum to share ideas and techniques that can make their jobs easier and safer.

"It's a cool and unique event because it's competitive and there's the physical element," he said during one of his breaks in the competition. "But there's also a deeper meaning to it. There is a different feel to the competition. We are all cheering each other on."

The five events ranged from an aerial rescue of a dummy to a speed climb event. A scoring system ranked the Top 4 men and the Top 3 women, who all moved on to the Masters' Challenge, a sort of combination of all of the previous events in one tree.

Chisholm holds the world record in the secured footlock event, a speed event that requires the climber to use a specific climbing technique. He has won the Masters' Challenge twice previously.

"(The footlock) requires me to be as athletic as I can and it requires training and physical fitness to be good at it" he said.

Rules committee member Rip Tompkins said the world championships move around from year to year and that 15 countries were represented this year. The championships follow the arboriculture group's national convention each year. To be invited to compete, a competitor must win a regional event.

Because of heavy storms on Saturday, most of the events of the normally two-day event were moved to Sunday.

Tompkins said the crowds are not as large as he would have hoped for and that the arborists who compete still deserve as much recognition as they can get.

"It would be great to get 5,000 people because it's a way to give notoriety to the guys who do the backbone work of the industry," he said.