From dislocated shoulders and knees to a fractured spine, Jamie Boston proves you can’t keep a good climber down.
Injuries are a sportsman’s biggest enemy. Give in to them and your career is doomed, but find a way to return stronger from each physical setback and you can reach the very top. Competition climber Jamie Boston has a body “held together with tape” after a string of injuries and accidents, but by defending his Queensland Tree Climbing Championship and placing top ten on debut at the World Championships this year, he demonstrates a ferocious will to win.
The hits have been tough. Jamie broke his back after being struck by a car while at the Asia Pacific Tree Climbing Championships in Singapore, fracturing his L2 vertebrae, damaging his right shoulder, suffering internal bleeding and slicing open his elbow. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever had,” Jamie said, which is saying something from a man who’s fractured his skull, broken bones, needed left shoulder reconstruction and snapping the ACL in his right knee, all through motocross and adventure sports.
In the Red Bull Branched Out event he had to pull out of the final after dislocating his shoulder, while the same injury almost proved his undoing at the 2018 Australian Nationals when he twice dislocated his shoulder in the Masters event. “It popped out twice and I had to put it back in, but I wasn’t going to give up,” Jamie said. “I needed a first or second place to go to the World Championships in America, so I pumped through it.” He secured the runner’s-up spot to book his ticket, but just before heading to the Worlds he popped his knee out playing netball.
“It’s funny, but every time I’ve been injured, when I’ve come back to climbing I’ve got better,” the 29-year-old said. “It must be a drive I have.” Only six months after fracturing his spine and being laid up in a Singapore hospital bed, Jamie made the Masters of the 2016 Australian Tree Climbing Championships and finished an incredible second.
This competitive drive must stem in part to his upbringing. Raised in Mullumbimby, NSW, Jamie and his younger brother Terry were forever trying to outdo each other, including tree climbing. “There was a tree house we built down the road with 27 different levels,” he said. “Terry and I are only two years apart and best friends so there was always competition between us.” It continues to this day, with Terry also one of Australia’s finest competition tree climbers.
Jamie’s arboriculture career began after becoming disenchanted with the on-off nature of building work. “A friend was tree climbing, asked if I wanted to try it and I quickly fell in love with it. I did six months on the ground learning the ropes, then got the opportunity to climb and got a job for Terry doing the same a year later.”
Due to his raft of injuries, Jamie is currently training manager at Treescape Australasia in Brisbane. “I’m off the tools for now, but I love sharing my knowledge with the next generation,” he said. “My big passion is helping, training and teaching climbers.” He can look to the man who originally trained him, 2017 World Champs bronze medal list Mark Gistitin, for this inspiration. “In my opinion he’s the best climber in Australia, and from day one I was on the job he was telling me all about the competitions and I wanted to be part of it.”
Success came quickly for Jamie, taking the NSW title in just his third ever event. Although punctuated by injuries, his honour roll today includes the aforementioned results plus Queensland champion in 2017 and 2018, Ascent winner at the 2017 and 2018 Red Bull Branched Out, Ascent and Throw line winner at the 2017 Asia Pacific Championships, and Ascent World Champion 2018.
Watch clips on YouTube or witness him live at a climbing event and it’s clear Jamie’s a prodigy at the Ascent discipline, arguably the world’s best. But how’s he so good? “My muscles lend themselves well to the ascent, and I’ve worked out a technique that I feel is fastest,” he said.
“I have the foot loop very loose on my left foot; it annoys others when they try the same because it always falls off, but as I’ve always done it this way my co-ordination makes it work and I’m able to get continuous momentum up the rope. Lots of practice has helped too.”
It was a dream to make the World Championships in Ohio this year. “It was a life goal and I did really well to finish tenth out of 75 climbers, with only one little mistake preventing me going into the Masters,” Jamie said. “It was really cool to see the best climbers in the world, you meet people you know from social media and past competition coverage, but I was totally calmed once I’d nailed the Ascent event. I thought the climbs would be harder than they were. I think that’s because the level of climbing we have in Australian, New Zealand and the Pacific region is so high, and harder than at the Worlds.”
Only six months after fracturing his spine and being laid up in a Singapore hospital bed, Jamie made the Masters of the 2016 Australian Tree Climbing Championships and finished an incredible second.”
Now he’s got a taste for the world stage, could he one day see himself as international champion? “I know I can make the Masters at the Worlds, but to win at that level you have to have a perfect run. The top guys like (current World Champ) James Kilpatrick are silky smooth and hard to beat. But absolutely I could win it.”
As with most competitive climbers, Jamie is a huge champion of the sport. “People shouldn’t be put off because it’s competitive,” Jamie said. “You help your fellow competitors and they help you; it’s all about the development of the industry and the people in it. At competitions you learn new techniques and see the problem solving, which really help with your work climbing.”
Now that he’s scratched his World Championship itch, this summer Jamie could endure both shoulder and knee reconstruction to help his broken body. If, as before, he comes back stronger than ever, 2019 could be a very special year indeed.