By Kenneth Roberts (AP)

Defending champion Jason Novak, 47 of Goreville, Ill., won the Drivin’ For Linemen championship rodeo Saturday afternoon at Gateway Motorsports Park.

(Novak won the inaugural Climbin’ for Linemen competition in 2016: http://www.gatewaymsp.com/7624-2/)

Novak, a lineman for Ameren Illinois who works out of Marion, bested 33 other competitors in pole climbing, eggs and buckets and a hurt-man rescue.

“We’ve got a pole in the yard and they (the company) let’s us practice off hours,” Novak said. “There’s some good competition out there. You’ve got to keep in shape. “There are guys out there half my age. So I try to keep up with them. Everybody’s getting faster. It gets harder and harder.”

Novak had the fastest time for the hurt-man climb (1 minute 5 seconds) and in the speed climb (1:15). He was also perfect in the speed climb with no points deducted (all competitors started with 100 points and had points deducted for mistakes made along the way).

The most interesting part of the rodeo is the hurt-man competition where all linemen start with no tools on their waists.

They must get their tools on and climb the pole. They then tie off the 185-pound mannequin that has been hurt in the line of duty. The competitors then must lower the mannequin to the ground in a controlled manner “without breaking his legs,” Novak said.

Another interesting aspect of the rodeo is the pole climbing with an egg. The competitors must take their empty bucket and egg to the top of the pole and exchange the bucket with another bucket and put the egg in their mouths.

They then must get down the pole without breaking the egg. If the egg breaks, the competitors finish with egg on their faces and points are deducted.

Novak was lucky he didn’t finish with egg on his face.
“There were a few broken today,” he said. “I was fortunate not to. (I have broken) quite a few over the years, though.”
The rodeo is a fund raiser held at several different venues for families whose loved ones were killed in the line of duty.

“It’s for all the families and for taking care of the wives and kids who are left behind,” Novak said. “I couldn’t think of another job I’d rather do. I went into it blind. God blessed me and I got lucky. I found a career I love.”

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