Having an arborist for a father, who is also an arboriculture instructor at Olds College, put Toni-Marie Newsham on a career trajectory straight up a tree.
On the weekend, Newsham was one of 38 competitors — nine women and 29 men — at the 2016 Prairie Chapter Tree Climbing Championship with the International Society of Arboriculture that was held in Olds.
Last year there were five women and 24 men at 2015 prairie competition held in Winnipeg.
Newsham said it may be a competition, but it’s a supportive and educational environment.
“Competitors are cheering for each other. We really just want everyone to get better and do the best that they can,” said Newsham, of Innisfail, who competed two years ago in Saskatoon.
“You get lots of experience and you get to meet lots of climbers who have been doing this for years and years. It’s a huge learning curve,” said Newsham, 23.
Kali Alcorn, 29, of Olds, who won the prairie chapter women’s division last year and went on to the international championship in April, was back to defend her title.
“It’s fun and there aren’t that many female arborists so it’s good to support each other and set a good example for the generations to come. We’re paving the way for female arborists, that’s for sure,” Alcorn said.
She said some serious athletes were coming out this year so it would be a tough event.
Climbers participate in five timed categories to show off their climbing expertise, how accurately they can toss a throw line into a tree, and perform an aerial rescue with a life-sized mannequin.
Newsham has never had to rescue anyone in a tree, but said it can happen if someone, usually another climber, is injured, has trouble because of medical condition or just gets stuck.
“Most first responders don’t have the education and experience to get a person out of a tree. We are the trained professionals in how to get the person out of there.”
Tree-climbing arborists are usually sent into the tree tops when a bucket truck can’t get close enough to access a tree to check for disease or damage, for pruning or removal.
But Newsham said some urban arborist companies in Calgary don’t have bucket trucks and always use climbers to get the job done.
Her father Laurie Newsham, who was lead aerial rescue judge at the competition, said tree climbing is a dangerous job and that’s why competitions, which help train climbers, are so important.
He said only severe weather will keep climbers on the ground.
The championship is also a way to increase public awareness about arboriculture and get people thinking about how to protect trees, he said.
His daughter said even young trees need help.
“We kind of plant them and neglect them. But if we deal with issues and pruning at a young age than we don’t have to do it when they’re older and mature. Wounds heal less quickly on mature trees.”