Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sarasota HIghland Games KILT-Y PLEASURES

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sarasota HIghland Games KILT-Y PLEASURES

Article excerpt

Tossing a sheaf and throwing a Scottish hammer may sound like easy, whimsical sports, but blame it on the verbiage. This is hurling, chucking, sweaty athleticism, and the competitors in the Sarasota Highland Games play at full kilt. Angela Walsh is one of them. A 41-year-old social worker from Sarasota, Walsh is the only local female thrower participating in the games at Saturday's 19th annual Celtic Festival. Apart from the sports at the nine-hour event, there will also be authentic eats like haggis and Scotch eggs, Scottish and Irish dancing, live Celtic music, competing pipe bands from area schools, and more than 30 clan gatherings and genealogy stations.

"This festival and these games are really an amazing experience," says Walsh, a descendant of the MacLeod clan who wears the family tartan to every competition. "The games are not like any other sports. It challenges you as an individual. It makes you feel strong and it's a great stress reliever."

There are seven of these "stress relievers" in total: the caber toss (a long, tapered pole hoisted while running); the open stone throw and the Braemar stone throw (both similar to the shot put); the heavy and light weight for distance throws; the Scottish hammer throw (a round, metal ball attached to the end of a shaft that is thrown over the shoulder); and the sheaf toss (a straw-filled burlap bag tossed vertically with a pitchfork).

The Highland Games date back to the 11th century and are reminiscent of a more pastoral way of life when only men competed. Nowadays the games are unisex pursuits, and though the women may throw lighter weights than the men, they are still hoisting 28- pound weights over bars, so it is no small challenge.

Bob Gourlay knows. A native of Dundee, Scotland, the Ocala resident is now the athletic director for the Sarasota Highland Games and judges championships countrywide.

"People will look at what we're doing and say, 'That looks easy,' but you're throwing a 56-pound weight sometimes. A caber just looks like a long log but it's a very heavy, long log. It's very difficult," Gourlay says, adding that he anticipates about 50 athletes at Sarasota's games, ranging in age from 17 to 60. …

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