Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Women in Trees – Competitors Special

Author:  Lisa Sanderson
Last Updated:  15/01/2019
Bo Hammarstrand in her element

Women from different areas of our industry face several challenges in the workplace, many, but not all, of these being the same challenges men face in our industry. What I have found from experience is that no matter where people come from or what gender they are, those that are successful appear confident, proud, ambitious, strong and resourceful. If these are some of the key qualities of their success, then perhaps all of us, whether we are entering the industry, advancing within it or even pondering retirement, should be striving towards practising and mastering these skills, regardless of our gender.

Tree climbing competitions and championships are held internationally and there are a growing number of competitions, competitors and spectators every year. The first competition I ever watched was nearly 20 years ago and there was only one female competitor. Of course she came top of her class! She was impressive, strong and fast, perhaps appearing even more so as she was brave enough to go solo when women entering tree climbing competitions were a rarity. If I knew her name, I would properly salute her true pioneering skills.This year 20 female competitors entered the ISA International Tree Climbing Championship (ITCC) in San Antonio, Texas, compared to 44 male competitors. Things are certainly changing. Nowadays, women are more comfortable competing in what can still be considered a male-dominated industry, and women are also more accepted in that role than 20 years ago.

Winners make great role models. In this issue, I talk to two female winners about their careers to date, what makes them tick, what ticks them off, where they've been and where they are going. Josephine Hedger (Jo) and Boel Hammarstrand (Bo) are arborists who appear confident, proud, ambitious, strong and resourceful - and looking at their careers to date, I would certainly say this has helped lead them to success.

Boel Hammarstrand (Bo)

Bo climbs like a girl - a winning girl!

A Swedish arborist working in the UK and Sweden, Bo has an impressive career in arboriculture. She is a self-employed contractor (Boel Hammarstrand's Trädvård (Sweden) and Swallows Tree Surgery (UK)), an NPTC trainer and assessor, a regular international climbing competitor and head judge of the UK 3ATC climbing competitions.

A competition climber since 2008, Bo travels internationally to compete with women from all over the world and with the exception of a small break, averages five competitions annually.

She's been to the European Tree Climbing Competitions six times, placing 2nd this year. Bo ranked 10/20 during her third visit to the ISA 2016 ITTC, beating competition winners from the North America, Asia Pacific and European championships. She also earned the 'Spirit of the Competition' award overall. Shortly afterwards, in the UK Open Tree Climbing Competition, Bo came a close 2nd to Jo in the Women's Masters, where she regularly places.

Bo also hosts a female climb and camp weekend, launched in 2016. It was such a great success, plans are afoot already for next year's meet.

This is what commitment to tree climbing looks like and this is what Bo had to say about her climbing career.

Lisa: What attracted you to tree climbing?

Bo: I have always loved climbing. When I was little I used to climb on whatever I could find: doorframes, scaffolding when we were rebuilding the roof, etc. When I found arboriculture it was like a dream come true. I could be outside, climb trees and get paid doing it!!

Lisa: What are some of the challenges you have faced in establishing your well-earned success as both a practitioner and a competition climber?

Bo: In 2011 I had both my carpal tunnels operated on. I started climbing again which was very tough as I had lost a lot of strength in my hands and couldn't do certain things any longer without getting shooting pains through my hands. I think my biggest challenges as a competitor have been myself and my nerves. I get really, really nervous before and during the comps which easy leads to silly mistakes that you wouldn't do otherwise.

Lisa: Who are your role models or your best supporters and why?

Bo: There are a lot of both females and males in the industry that are good role models. I get the most support from my mum and from my partner. My partner is also a climber so it's handy having someone to throw ideas around with or when trying new things.

Lisa: What are the other secrets to your success?

Bo: Embracing myself and not giving up, along with a lot of coffee! I also use Herbalife nutrition products which have given me a lot more energy.

Lisa: Who do you now admire most in arboriculture and why?

Bo: At one of the comps this year I meet Rachel Brudzinski; she is a great inspiration to me. A few years ago she had a bad accident and fractured her spine. Now she is back climbing and really positive and inspiring.

Lisa: What is your proudest career moment?

Bo: Getting the support from Fletcher Stewart/STEIN makes me feel very lucky as a climber. Having the backing of a manufacturing company makes me feel very proud. Also I feel very honoured to be the head judge for the 3ATC climbing competitions.

Lisa: What do you do now for work?

Bo: Being self-employed, my work is very shifting and goes from doing NPTC assessments solid for a few weeks to full-on climbing the next, or a mix between the two. It also involves doing surveys, working at trade shows, running workshops or training courses and setting up and judging the 3ATC competitions.

Lisa: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Bo: Still doing what I am doing now, still climbing and assessing and training, helping out at competitions and still competing.

Lisa: What advice would you give women entering our industry or trying to progress within it?

Bo: Keep at it. Don't take any stick without giving it back. There are a lot of good support networks and groups today for females in the industry; find them and meet up with others. Don't be scared of being yourself or scared of being proud of who you are and what you can do in the industry.

Josephine Hedger (Jo)

Josephine Hedger, founder of Arbor Venture Tree Care and Arbor Venture Training (New Forest), has been climbing since 2002 and has an impressive list of achievements as a competitive climber.

Jo Hedger's winning smile - 2014 ITCC Women's Champion. (John Trenchard) 

She won the ISA ITCC in 2008, in 2010 and again in 2014. This year, Jo came an impressive close 2nd in the ITCC. This closely followed her win in this summer's Women's Masters at the UK Open Tree Climbing Competition in July.

She represents the UK chapter at the European Tree Climbing Championships (ETCCs) and competes for them internationally, including a winning trip to Poland in 2014 and another this year in July in Prague.

Jo's international endeavours are sponsored by DMM International Ltd and she is an ambassador for Husqvarna.

As if that weren't enough, Jo also held a world record in foot locking, gained in 2008 in her first international climbing competition, so her world stage debut was nothing short of original and spectacular.

This is what Jo had to say about her climbing career.

Lisa: What attracted you to tree climbing?

Jo: I was already working as a tree climber when I first entered myself into a tree climbing competition. However, I had never even watched a competition, so had fully chucked myself in at the deep end. Although I had no idea what I was doing, I did thoroughly enjoy myself. Seeing the top climbers, I was amazed that you could climb trees with such speed and run through the canopy like you weren't even attached to a rope. I was instantly in awe. I came away from that competition inspired and rather than feeling defeated I wanted to learn how to be better and climb like the men that I had watched that weekend.

A determined competitor. (David Graham)

Lisa: What are some of the challenges you have faced in establishing your well-earned success as both a practitioner and a competition climber?

Jo: I would probably say finding time. To learn as much as I could I spent a couple of years doing a lot of travelling all over the world to as many competitions as I could get to. This meant a lot of cost both in money but also in time. At that time I had a very small tree care company which I basically had to put on hold when I was away. I was advised by my accountant to stop travelling as it was detrimental to the business. I was even asked 'Do you think it will be worth it?' I also have to find time outside of work to train before a competition. This is hard after a day climbing at work and also takes up most of your weekends. But now I have a great balance. I have grown my business so this continues while I am away and I have learnt to balance my life between training and time off.

Lisa: Who are your role models or your best supporters and why?

Jo: My partner John Trenchard. He has really helped me to achieve my goals. Ultimately, competitive tree climbing is a sport, and like most sports you need someone to help you train and coach you. It really helps me to have someone to push me and try ideas out with. He also puts up with the amount of time this all takes, meaning we spend our free time climbing, and eating late during the weeks leading up to competitions as we'll be out until its dark.

Lisa: What are the other secrets to your success?

Jo: Not to be defeated. I am a competitive person but you have to learn that defeat actually makes you a much stronger person. Learn from every mistake you make and don't dwell on what has been. I also use the skills I have learnt at competitions at work which means I can constantly improve and develop my techniques while making my job easier at the same time.

Lisa: Who do you now admire most in arboriculture and why?

Jo: Mark Chisholm has won and represented the New Jersey ISA Chapter at the International Tree Climbing Championship for over 20 years. He has been such a consistent climber who keeps developing his own skills to achieve three World Championships. To watch him climb is inspirational as he effortlessly moves around the canopy.

Lisa: What is your proudest career moment?

Jo: Achieving a World Record in foot locking at the International Tree Climbing Competition in 2008. The result of so much hard work and effort.

Lisa: What do you do now for work?

Jo: I own a tree care company in the New Forest, carrying out more complex climbing jobs as well as quoting and keeping things running on a day-to-day basis. I am also an instructor and assessor for arboriculture so this is also fitted into the calendar.

Just another day at work for Jo. (Paul Provins)

Lisa: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Jo: Sitting on a beach enjoying a cocktail! But I am in no doubt that I will still be working within arboriculture. I may not be climbing every day as I am now, but hover boots may have been invented by then. I will continue to train others in arboriculture as this is rewarding.

Lisa: What advice would you give women entering our industry or trying to progress within it?

Jo: To stick at it. It's a wonderful industry to be a part of, and it's an ongoing education, which keeps you interested. Practical arboriculture is very physical on your body so look after yourself. I've taught myself to treat it like a sport, so plenty of stretching and eating good food for energy.

Teachers love questions (and answers). Lisa Sanderson is a Training Developer and Lecturer for The Training Tree and an Arboricultural Consultant for Ian Keen Limited.