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Men and Women in Kilts Throwing Heavy Objects
That is usually how I describe a Highland Game to someone when they ask where Steve and I are going. We are going to a Highland Game. Of course it is much more than that, but most folks think about the men in kilts throwing things about.
To be honest, when Steve decided he wanted to "throw" for the first time, I said that would be great and I would fully support that idea. We were heading to Joplin, Missouri to add our support to our friends Joey Grieshaber and Jamie Channel. It was the first Game for Joplin. We were full in to help.
Steve put on his nice, made-in-Scotland, modern hunting green kilt, and we showed up at the local park. It took a couple of hours to put up the weight over bar, the bar for the sheaf, place the various stones, and then sort out the clipboards and trophies. But after a couple of hours, the games started.
I expected Steve to compete in the sheaf, and the caber. After all, he's a farm kid/cowboy. He knows one end of a pitchfork from another, and I've even helped him put up hay. The motions of tossing bales of hay are not too different from tossing a sheaf. Right? However, I was not prepared for the entire day. I truly thought athletes picked an event or two. Surely this is not the dicathalon.
Each athlete competes in all of the events. They work towards a personal best and they work to have the highest score among all the athletes competing in their category.
So I watched as Steve learned from the Masters, athletes in their 70's who had earned the repect of so many other younger athletes. They patiently gave Steve tips and instructions for each event. I was particularly proud of him when he picked up the caber and threw it for a perfect score. My Steve is 71 years young this year, and he has thrown at least 4 times in the past 8 years. I'm so proud.
Of course, at the end of that day, he was dragging. As Joey would explain to Steve, a former long-distance runner, Steve has muscles for endurance, but not the springy muscles for the Games. The springy muscles are with those guys and gals who lift weights and can have a sudden surge of power to throw those heavy objects. The endurance muscles are the ones that will carry your body across fields or across the swimming pool for long periods of time. Steve held a state record for many years, so yes, we understand the endurance muscles.
Again, Steve did participate at least 4 times at various games. He started and finished each time. What events did he complete at each game?
The Caber - that telephone pole looking thing that must be picked up and thrown in front of the athlete with the hopes that it lands perfectly at 12:00 o'clock to achieve a perfect score. You get a point just for picking the thing up.
The Hammer - a heavy ball on the end of a long handle that is thrown just like you see it in the olympics. It weighs about 22 pounds for men and the women throw one that is 16 pounds. One of my favorites to watch because the athlete will pick up the end, whirl it around his/her head and then let it fly. It isn't the throwing but the beautiful whirling of all the pleats from the kilt that I love to watch.
Open Stone and Braemar Stone - this is like the shot put. The athlete places the stone on their collar bone below their chin and attempt to launch the stone as far as possible. The open stone is 2 different weights. The athletes start with the heavier stone and then move to the lighter one. The Braemar stone is a set weight.
Weight for Distance - Same motion as the hammer. The athlete holds onto the end of a chain attached to a weighted ball. There is a spin and a throw for distance.
Weight over Bar - You might see some athlete approach this as they would the Weight for Distance with a spin and a release. The object is to get the heavy weight at the end of a chain over a high bar. Most athletes will lean over, pick up the weight and then rock it outside their legs and then between their legs to get momentum to throw it up and over a high bar located above the athlete. The toss is normally up and over the athlete's head going backwards. I once heard Joey say it is all with the hips.
The Sheaf Toss - This is where Steve's "putting up hay" days helps. Using a pitch fork (of sorts), the athlete pierces a sheaf of hay and tosses it up and over a high bar. This event is where I learned it isn't about your size, but rather your technique. There is an entire family from Manhattan, Kansas where all of them compete. One of the family members is Emily. She is this little tiny gal, but even with her diminutive size, I have seen her toss the sheaf higher than many male athletes. So don't let your size keep you from participating.
I found a great website for the BC Highland Games with a photo and description of each event. The descriptions there will likely be much better stated than mine. Enjoy that page here: https://bchighlandgames.com/competitions/heavy-events/
At some games, we have seen a tug 'o war. But we rarely see that event as that would be a team event. As Christina McFarland Helms, who also competes, points out, the tug 'o war is more common at the games in Canada and Europe. But what a fun event to watch!
To be honest, my descriptions do not give the sport true justice. But next time you wander out to a game, maybe you will have a better idea beyond just the telephone pole toss of what the athletes are doing. Would I ever participate? Nope. I'm a wimp. Bad back, bad shoulder, bad knees and ankles (too many years playing volleyball). If we were allowed to throw broom sticks (I know Steve has a joke with that particular item for me) instead of heavy trees, tennis balls instead of stones, and a bean bag instead of a heavy bale, I might consider it.
For now, my full respect to those who give it a try. You should be very proud. And here's to Jamie Channel (featured below), one of my favorite athletes.