by M. SOLLE
Rockford has turned out its fair share of elite athletes over the years, and now we have one more to add to the list. He may have even been at your home before, but you didn’t even know it.
Lucas Drews is an elite, internationally ranked professional tree climber. Not a sport, you say? It’s definitely not a “traditional” sport like football, track or baseball, but if you’ve ever seen a professional tree climber in their daily work, you would be convinced that not many could do an activity like that. It’s rough, it’s physical, it’s technically challenging, and it’s demanding. Being a tree climber takes precision and skill and is definitely not for the faint of heart.
As a certified arborist for over 10 years and a competitive tree climber for over six years, Drews knows trees. He knows how to quickly get up one and quickly get down.
In any given tree-climbing competition there are five different events: the throw-line, the secured foot lock, the work climb, the belayed speed climb, and the aerial rescue. Competitors are scored based on speed, accuracy, and safety/awareness. Judges are placed around the tree and up in the tree being used. At the end of all five stations, points are tallied and a winner is determined.
In 2008, Drews competed in the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Southern Regional Tree Climbing Championship in Knoxville, Tenn. He completed the belayed speed climb (60 feet) in 28.877 seconds. He also finished the secured foot lock (49 feet 2.5 inches) in 19.657 seconds. Overall, he finished first and was ranked 12th in the world.
What sets this sport apart from so many others is the way it integrates into a competition what tree climbers do on a daily basis. The events are actual methods and processes the participants use in their daily work, only done much more quickly and for bragging rights. There is rarely trash-talking or bad-mouthing, and more often than not there is a spirit of camaraderie, where fellow tree climbers root each other on and give advice. Bill Drews, Lucas Drews’ father, said it best, “These men are a brotherhood of elite athletes. They are all athletes in their own right. What we do every day [as arborists] is an athletic event.”
Drews doesn’t climb trees because of the prize money. In fact, there is very little prize money. Occasionally there will be prizes such as chainsaws or other trade-specific items, but rarely monetary prizes. He funds his entry entirely through sponsorship by Woodland Tree Service of Rockford along with his own money.
Drews climbs professionally because he can. “I do it for the education aspect, to learn about myself and the industry and to help upcoming climbers,” Drews said. Julie Drews, Lucas’ mother, recalled Lucas as a young boy and said, “We always had a feeling he would climb; he was climbing before he walked.”
The majority of the Michigan competitions are on the east side of the state, but the entire Drews family hopes to someday have a competition on the west side to showcase what skill these men and women have and to allow the public to see how safe tree-climbing can be when properly skilled and outfitted.
Drews is a 1999 graduate of Lakeview High School. He has a degree in horticulture from Ferris State University and is a certified arborist. His parents, Bill and Julie Drews, own Woodland Tree Service in Rockford. Drews’ next competition is in January in Augusta, Georgia.