The top tree climber in Ohio is an arborist for a Hilliard company.

The top tree climber in Ohio is an arborist for a Hilliard company.

Justin McVey of Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation won the 2010 Ohio Chapter International Society of Arboriculture Tree Climbing Championship, which was earlier in June at Toledo's Walbridge Park.

McVey, 27, of Columbus, won the day-long event in his first year of competing.

"I had no idea what to expect," McVey said. "Jay Butcher (a veteran climber from Cincinnati), the guy who got third place, showed me how to do most of the events. I had kind of an idea, but he was giving me hints. As you're doing each event, everyone that you're competing against is cheering you on. It was a little different than what you would traditionally think of as a competition. That was actually pretty neat."

For some, a tree-climbing competition conjures images of lumberjacks dangerously shimmying their way up and down a 90-foot telephone pole in 30 seconds. However, the ISA event is completely different. The contest emphasizes safety (you can be disqualified if you're not safely secured) and the living tree is not harmed by the competitors.

At the ISA contest, 18 competitors from around the state participated in five preliminary events. The climbers with the top three scores advanced and had 25 minutes to ring bells at four different parts of a tree while 65 feet off the ground.

"Rarely does a new guy even get into the Masters' Challenge, let alone win the competition," said Chris Ahlum, vice president of Ahlum & Arbor.

McVey said he's been with Ahlum & Arbor for two years, and prior to that, trimmed branches for a utility company.

"At the power company, you learn a very basic method of (climbing)," McVey said. "When I came to Ahlum & Arbor, I learned a lot more of the modern techniques. It's similar in that you have a rope that's over a limb, and you're climbing it. But the way that you tend your slack on it and the way that you have your body positioned when you're working with it is a little bit different."

"Justin's background is in utilities, where he's used to climbing up trees and clearing wires," Ahlum said. "We refined his skills to give him the ability to climb throughout the tree. We do teach all of our climbers the right way to climb. Justin is a newer climber, so it's exciting because he has so much potential to grow."

As the state champion, McVey will represent Ohio in the 2010 International Tree Climbing Championship at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. (near Chicago) on July 24-25. Ahlum said 40-60 arborists from around the world will compete in the event, held since 1976.

"Everything we do at the competition is what we do on a day-to-day basis," McVey said. "As far as training goes, I guess you're doing it every day, not necessarily anything special to get ready for it. It is kind of nice to be able to go to work every day and say that you enjoy your job. I know some people don't."