It’s all about managing the angles, says one of the heavy events athletes who joined Red Deer’s 69th-annual Highland Games at Titan Park on Saturday.
A thin drizzle of rain fell from high clouds as Damien Fisher of Bellingham, Wash., Rob Young of Calgary and a handful of other tall, stout lads took their turns tossing various heavy items across the wet grass.
Fisher set a new field record in the lightweight stone event, throwing a 28-pound weight 82 feet and six inches across the wet grass. Not quite as stocky as some of his fellow competitors, Fisher says his advantage is in having long arms and legs, which give him more leverage when he’s winding up for the throw.
He then switched out to a different pair of shoes, modified with a heavy spike at each toe to stick into the grass and hold his feet still for the hammer toss.
Very dangerous. Not the sort of thing you wear to a dance.
Young’s mother, Lesley, said she was deathly afraid when her son, 2002 heavyweight champion on the University of Calgary wrestling team, developed an interest in the heavy events. Relaxing in a lawn chair as her son warmed up for the Hammer Throw, she recalled her trepidation as she watched him out in a field, tossing heavy weights over a bar that was well above his head as he practiced for the Weight for Height event.
The program describes Weight for Height as the event that makes you hurt. “It’s about the same as throwing a small child over a Greyhound bus, but less likely to land you in jail — although it could land you in hospital,” it says.
Massive at six-foot-four and more than 300 pounds (1.93 metres and 136.6 kg), Young had quit wrestling after suffering from concussion and joined the university’s track and field team. He discovered Highland Games later on as an ideal vent for his competitive drive.
But don’t think the heavy events are limited to big, stout lads, said Masters (over 40) competitor Sean Langford, on hand to judge the open competitions. There are women’s events, too — and they toss some of the same weights as the men — just not as far, where distance is the goal. The heaviest of all, the caber toss, is all about style. The caber — a long tapered pole — is to be grasped at its narrow end, and then tossed in a manner that will flip it end over end and in a straight line.
Highland Games appear to have started hundreds of years ago as casual bets between rival farmers, with little or no relationship to actual field chores, said Young.
Aside from the heavy events, Red Deer’s Highland Games run a broad spectrum of Scottish culture, including competitions for pipers, drummers, pipe bands and Highland dancers as well as a Tug-O-War and a shortbread competition.
Chairperson Debbie Wallace said there are always a few headaches as competitors and vendors start arriving first thing in the morning, but a little rain didn’t hurt a bit.
The dampness and chill actually made it feel just a bit more like Scotland, said Wallace. The weather did not deter participants, but Wallace was concerned that it would affect the number of people who came out to watch.
To help attract the volunteers it needs to keep the show running, the games offers a share of its proceeds to local charities that want to make some money.
This year’s crew is a group of people saving up to send a group of Grade 8 students from Red Deer on a science trip to Orlando, Fla. in 2017.
Wallace’s husband, John — a direct descendant of Clan Wallace, said the games appear to date back roughly to the early 11th Century with competitions organized by Clan Canmore. Wallace said he had noticed after attending Highland Games elsewhere in the province that there were no clan tents set up at Red Deer, so he set about fixing that flaw with a number of clans setting up among the vendors in the concession area.
Fittingly, finalists from local competitions wrap up their season this fall at the Canmore Highland Games, recognized as one of the Top 12 in Canada.