On Saturdays, communication faculty member Paul Radford often trains on the back campus of BJU. But he’s not training for a marathon or another common athletic event. No, he trains for heavy athletics competitions in Greenville’s Highland games events.
Radford has been competing at Gallabrae, Greenville’s Highland games held at Furman University, since 2017. This year, he will be missing Gallabrae because he is currently in the United Kingdom leading a study abroad trip. However, he won’t have to miss out on participating in the games completely as he has the opportunity to compete in the Blackford Highland Games in Scotland.
See Also: Study Abroad in the UK with BJU
Involvement in heavy athletics competitions has given Radford the opportunity to build relationships with people he might otherwise not have met.
“You kind of see many of the same guys year to year. One guy I met at my first Greenville event has become a good friend and trains with me on Saturdays,” he said. Radford also said he’s been able to use his involvement in the games as an opportunity to build on relationships with his students. “A few students have tossed weights with me and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them better and chat about life,” he added.
Highland Game Heavy Athletics
Each Highland games heavy athletics event consists of a combination of six different competitions. Athletes compete in all events, and their combined scores determine the champion. And while Scottish blood may not be required, kilt wearing is.
- In the caber toss, athletes lift and toss a 16–22-foot tree trunk that has been cleared of branches and bark. The caber is wider at one end than the other, and athletes hold the narrow end when tossing. The challenge of the caber toss is not distance but aim. Athletes want the caber to land perpendicular to themselves after they toss it—referred to as the “12 o’clock position.” Notably, Radford tells, “My very first caber toss in competition, I got a perfect 12 o’clock toss.”
- The hammer throw does not look like the mental image its name evokes. The hammer is actually a 4-foot-long pole with a 16- or 22-pound ball on the end. The wielder fixes their feet, swings the hammer around their head, then lets it fly behind them over their shoulder. The competitor with the farthest distance wins.
- The stone throw, or shot put, event is similar to modern track and field shot put competitions. There are two main types of stone throwing: Braemar Stone and Open Stone. In Braemar Stone, athletes place a 20- to 26-pound stone against their neck and must throw the stone without running. In Open Stone, throwers hold a 16- to 22-pound stone the same as in Braemar Stone, but they may run before releasing the stone. Again, the competitor with the farthest distance earns the most points.
- The weight for distance competition is usually split into two separate competitions: light and heavy. Light weight for distance uses a 28-pound weight, and heavy weight for distance uses a 56-pound weight. As the name implies, the goal is to throw the weight the farthest. Throwers usually use a spinning technique to throw the weight, as seen in this clip of Radford:
- Weight for height uses the same 56-pound weight as the heavy weight for distance competition. Athletes use one hand to throw the weight over a horizontal bar slightly behind them. Each athlete has three tries at each height of the bar, but if they miss all three, they are out of the competition. The highest successful toss wins.
- The sheaf toss may not be a historically accurate Highland game competition, but many Highland heavy athletics competitions still include the event today. Athletes use a pitchfork to toss a bundle of straw wrapped in a burlap sack over a bar. As in the weight for height competition, the bar is continually raised, and tosses are scored similarly.
Radford claims his favorite events are the weight for height and hammer throw. His least favorite: the sheaf toss and stone throw.
Highland Game History
The first mention of the Scottish Highland games was during the reign of King Malcolm III (1058–1093). These games developed as a military training method when the British had disarmed the Scots. But after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce granted a charter allowing a market and fair to accompany the Ceres Games of Fife in honor of those who fought. The festival tradition continued, and the Ceres Games are now the oldest continuous Highland games having run for almost 700 years (the games ceased for a short time during the Proscription Act and World Wars I and II).
The Highland Society of New York introduced the Scottish tradition to the United States in 1836 when they held their first games. The longest running games in the U.S., though, are at the Caledonian Club of San Francisco which held their first games in 1866.
Greenville’s version of the Highland games is called Gallabrae. Held Memorial Day weekend on the campus of Furman University, the ticketed event includes a parade, a military salute, sheepdog demonstrations, a British car show, Celtic music, a Scottish heritage cultural park, piping and drumming competitions, and—of course—a heavy athletics competition.