I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in Baltimore, warm weather brings a sudden bloom of ethnic festivals: Polish, Latino, Ukrainian, Italian, Russian, you name it. And while such festivals are a nice diversion, they generally don't represent a sports or fitness opportunity - at least not for those who come to be spectators. Last I checked, funnel cake, which seems to be required by law in order to have a festival, doesn't fall into the category of health food. And there's not much cardio involved in going from vendor to vendor to do souvenir shopping.
But the other day, I got a "save the date" e-mail advertising one state's Highland Games. Ever heard of these? They're not just about bagpipes and drums. They're more along the lines of living history, because they keep alive the games that are indigenous to Scotland, and that once were used to give clans bragging rights at their annual festivals.
Make no mistake: we're not talking about 5Ks and fun walks here. We're talking about feats of strength you probably won't find anywhere else. Games you'll find at these events might include the following:
• The Open Stone Put. For the uninitiated, that's a competition involving throwing a stone that weighs between 16 and 22 pounds.
• Braemar Stone Put. Similar, but with a stone between 22 and 28 pounds.
• Hammer Throw. Not the Home Depot variety, nor the track and field variety.
• Caber Toss. This basically involves throwing part of a tree.
• 56-Pound Weight for Distance. You need an explanation?
• Sheaf Toss. That's a bag stuffed with mulch, straw or something else.
• Weight for Height. Tossing a weight of either 28 pounds or 56 pounds over a crossbar. You get three tries before you're crossed off the list of contenders.
• Boulder Boogie. Walk as far as you can while carrying a big heavy rock without dropping it.
• Archery. Hey, something people have actually heard of.
• Maide Leisg. It's Gaelic, and the closest translation is "lazy stick." It's a feat of strength in which two seated men face each other with a stick between their toes, and try for leverage. Don't ask. Just watch.
• Games for The Wee Ones. Some of this is mundane stuff like mini-golf or soccer, but there are some with a wow factor, like the Haggis Hurl. I kid you not - click this link now.
Like I said, it's stuff you won't find anywhere else. You can watch guys outfitted in kilts do a lot of this, a real departure from what usually happens at your local gym (or at least at my local gym). It's definitely a departure from the funnel cakes and prize wheels I see every time I walk into a festival in our city.
Maybe this is something to make your members aware of - there are probably plenty of guys in the weight room who would get a kick out of trying to throw a 56-pound stone, and who might put in some extra reps in preparation - or maybe it's just something you head off to on your own to get a whole new perspective on sports. There are also plenty of opportunities to experience other aspects of Scotland - whiskey tasting, Scottish dancing, crafts, bagpiping, herding dog trials and a bunch of other stuff.
I have already marked my calendar for the next time I can do a day trip to one of these. Want to find one near you? Go to The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals. You can search for games in or near your state, or you can search the calendar month by month.
While you won't find me hurling trees or rocks or hammers at one of these things, I might try my hand at archery. Or more likely, at mini-golf. It doesn't have the cachet of the haggis hurl, but I don't think I have to sign a release form to do it. And maybe that's more historically accurate anyway - legal releases were something they definitely didn't have in the days of the original games between clans.