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International Climbers Scale Trees in Milwaukee this Weekend

S Bence

Climbers – from Australia to Sweden , Wisconsin as well,  will compete at Mount Mary University. We learn from some of the best at a recent competition in Pewaukee.

Tom Schumacher was keenly focused on the “aerial rescue”. In this case, his job is to safely bring down a stuffed dummy. It’s one of five elements of the competition.

Tom Schumacher in the middle of aerial rescue event.

When this is all over, he top-scoring men and women will compete for the masters. The winners – one man, one woman will represent Wisconsin in NEXT year’s international competition.

Schumacher just wants to get through TODAY. This is only his second competition. He’s feeling pretty good right now.

Schumacher, like the rest of these competitors, climb trees for a living. He joined a firm based in Madison about four and a half years ago. His day to day job involves trimming trees, planting others – occasionally applying a chemical treatment or two.

Before becoming an arborist, Schumacher finished a degree in psychology and before that, he worked in a flooring store warehouse. How did he find his way to the “canopy”?

“That’s kind of funny story. Actually on a camping trip along with some friends we were going to build a really big fire. It was down in Florida, so some of the trees were in sand, and some of them were so rotten, you could just push them over. I was having a lot of fun. A friend of mine, who worked for my current boss, said ‘you know Tom, you might like tree work. And he was right, I do love it,” Schumacher says.

Shelly Wollerman works with a different firm in Madison. She started her career in landscaping, but when her company lost their tree trimmer – a job that intrigued Wollerman

“I told them I was willing to try it and they threw my up in a tree for about 15 feet and I’ve been climbing trees ever since,” Wollerman says.

Credit S Bence
Shelly Wollerman takes flight.

  She’s been climbing competitively now for four years, and she’s good at it.

“I’ll be competing at Internationals this year in Milwaukee. So we’re competing now to compete in Florida next year,” Wollerman says.

And it’s not her FIRST rub with the global climbing crowd. She’s competed in International for three years.

Wollerman’s secret of success? She says you have to trust your equipment. As for training?

“I say work is my training. I don’t have time to train, I work too much,” Wollerman says.

Mustached, wearing a distinctive yellow and red safety helmet and a tad more mature than the rest of the climbing crowd, no one is more enthusiastic about the sport than is Greg Manning. He traveled from home – 30 miles due east of Cleveland - to serve as one of today’s judge. He zooms all over the country to drink in this stuff.

“I’m a retired chemical engineer and eight years ago I decided I wanted to start doing recreation climbing and the guy who got me start said you’re making pretty good progress. You should start going to competition and helping out, you’ll learn a lot. So I’ve done about 50 competitions, so I do six to eight a year,” Manning says.

Another of today’s officials, Don Roppolo says has done his share of judging , but comes to competitions like this from a different perspective. Drawing people in to watch the excitement is a way to talk up SAFETY.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of people who go out and do tree work who don’t necessarily know what they’re doing and get hurt, so if we can get together as an industry and share and help everybody, we’ll all be safer,” Roppolo says.

Roppolo won’t be officiating at this weekends internationals at Mount Mary, but he’ll be putting in an appearance.

He and 90 other arbor fans will be rolling from a 580-mile bike tour, called Tours des Trees. Roppolo says the trek is about more than hanging with tree-lovers. Each rider agrees to raise at least $3,500.

“And that money funds research and education and along the way we stop and do educational programs, mostly for schools and children. We plant trees with them and really do a fun educational event for them to learn a little more about trees. Also they help plant the trees, so ten years down the road they remember they planted that tree,” Roppolo says.

Watching climbers dance across tree limbs high above your head is something else an observer of any age is likely to remember.

The International Society of Arboriculture expects over 1,000 arborists to flock here. The competition will take place in Mount Mary University's "canopy" Saturday and Sunday.

Credit S Bence

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.