CANMORE – Bowling ball sized rocks, hammers fit for Thor’s firm handgrip and tall wood poles were all tossed like feathers by dueling strongmen and women in Canmore.
During Labour Day long weekend, which attracts disturbingly cold weather to town on cue, a plethora of lads and lassies in plaid Scottish kilts attended the 28th annual Canmore Highland Games at Centennial Park.
The two-day Scottish festival highlights highland dancing, Celtic music, adult bevies and the popular heavy games contest, consisting of the weight throw (56 and 28 pounds), hammer throw (22 lbs., 16 lbs.), throwing the weight over the bar (56 lbs.), putting the stone, sheaf toss (throwing a straw bag with a pitchfork), and caber toss (lifting and tossing a wood pole).
And, like cool temperatures spilling into Canmore, “The Heavies” always bring in a big group (literally) looking to test their strength, skill and stamina over a day’s worth of physical challenges.
For some highlanders, the appeal of the heavy games is competition after high school or post-secondary sports end, a chance to improve techniques, or for bragging rights among the field.
The appeal that flirted the most with Robert Scott, the games’ men’s amateur winner, well, is quite simple.
“It’s fun to lift heavy things,” Scott said, with a laugh.
With a grassy brown beard and sleeveless red shirt showing a set of pipes forged in the gym, Scott stood out in challenges and appearance on Sunday (Sept. 2).
The amateur winner got involved in bodybuilding during high school football to improve strength for the gridiron, he said.
“I picked this up a couple of months ago,” said Scott, from Calgary, of highland heavy sports. “I found this is kind of weird. It’s different than other strength sports, I don’t know how to describe the atmosphere, but it’s fun to compete; you have your technique in mind and you’re trying to improve on it.”
He said there isn’t one contest that he stands out in just yet, but he was consistently in the top three throughout the day.
Local strongman Kevin Kuhn echoed Scott’s notion of the games’ magnet to improve a performance by throwing farther and lifting for longer.
“It’s more technique; once you get the technique you can work on the power part,” Kuhn said.
After two decades observing the Canmore Highland Games in his backyard, Kuhn got involved in the contest in 2016 and he’s been going ever since.
“I’ve always watched and one day I wanted to do it … I was sore for three weeks after,” he joked.
Now in his third year competing, Kuhn wants to eventually go back to his hometown in Maxville, Ont., where one of Canada’s biggest highland games takes place every year, and enter The Heavies contest so his father can watch him.
“It would be great to try and perform there with my father watching,” he said.
Another Heavies competitor was Calgary’s Jamie Clark, a four-year veteran of the local games.
After a competitive shot-putting career wound down, Clark got involved in the highland games as a driver to help make gains in the gym each year.
“It’s the feat of strength,” Clark said. “I’m quite strong, and didn’t know what to do with myself after track and field, so it’s a nice outlet for that.”
Clark placed second in the women’s category, behind Susie Lajoie from Nova Scotia.
Three women signed up and competed this year, which Clark had to smile about.
“This was the most women we’ve had with three so that’s pretty exciting, we’re always wanting to get more women involved,” she said.