I am not a small guy. I am average, maybe slightly larger in terms of my physique. Height-wise, I think I am average height. As for my body, I am in decent shape and slightly bigger and may be a little more athletic than the average guy.
I am not a weakling, have a decent build, and I try to stay in good shape. I consider myself just an average guy.
Why does this matter?
Would be you be impressed if I told you that I could throw a 5 lb frozen haggis 83 feet 7 inches and that the only guys who could throw it further were athletes that competed on a regular basis?
OK so maybe people aren’t that impressed. I’ve still considered putting it on my professional resume – travel writer and blogger, accounting degree (yes, believe it or not), long distance haggis tosser.
(Seriously, where else can you toss your haggis and people cheer and applaud?)
Last year, I was introduced to the Scottish Highlands Games professional athletes. I spent an entire day with them and had a chance to tell their story.
How do you become a Scottish Highlands Games professional athlete?
What are these athletes like? How do these athletes make money?
More importantly, what do they have in common with you and me? What are the personal lives of Scottish Games professional athletes like? Learn more about these athletes in this interview with Scottish Highland Games athlete Jon O’Neil.
This year, I had the chance to go to the 136th Sacramento Scottish Highlands Games and Festival and connect with them yet again.
Reunited with old friends
This year, I went to the festival with some friends. Both of my friends are of Scottish heritage. My friend Chris was kind enough to allow me to wear one of his kilts and I did so proudly (I don’t even know if I am Scottish but there is a chance I have some connection).
As I walked over to where the athletes were competing, I passed by Russell – the father of Scottish Games professional athlete Rusty Price. He was the one that encouraged me to walk over and talk to the guys last year.
We both had changed – he now had a beard, my hair was a little shorter and I was wearing a kilt. However, it was good to see an old familiar face.
Walking with him was Rusty and I was glad to see him here again. I knew he would be here as he is the local boy from California. Rusty had a good year last year and looked bigger and stronger than ever.
As I walked over to the benches where I spent most of my day at the Scottish Highlands Games and Festival last year, the guys were on their lunch break.
The first guy I saw was Chad and a huge smile came over my face. Thankfully, he smiled back and recognized me as well. We talked about life, families, and how he did last year. I introduced him to my crowd of people and we hung out and chatted some more.
Sitting down behind us were Greg and Sean. I walked over to them and smiled as I said hello. My average hand gripped their enormously large hands and we made our acquaintances once again.
I was welcomed back.
Unfortunately, Mike, Dan (the 2011 Highlands World Champion), and Larry (the 2010 Highlands World Champion) couldn’t make it this year. However, Chad introduced me to two new guys Andy and Matt. Just like the rest of the guys last year, they were happy to welcome me to the group as I got to know them a little and shared my story from last year.
Last year, I loved hanging out and watching these guys perform. This year, every one of them looked even bigger. Maybe they weren’t really larger or stronger. After my time with them last year, maybe they only grew in stature because I was in awe of what they could do.
New friends and old acquaintances, I enjoyed coming back. Seeing these guys again and remembering who I was meant something to me. Because hanging out with them touched something inside of me and made me feel a part of something bigger than myself.
I didn’t hang out with them all day this time. Lunch was over and the time had come for them to go back out and compete again. I would be back to watch them again a little bit later.
However, before I left I did the one thing I sometimes hate doing – I gave all of them my card. I didn’t do it to promote myself. I actually prefer promoting them and telling their story more than I care about them reading any of mine.
Yet I want to stay in touch. I talked to Chad about his schedule for the rest of the year. With my travel schedule this year, maybe we can connect again in another place, another time, and another Scottish kilt.
These guys may not see as much more than a Scottish Highlands Games groupie with a notepad, pen, and camera. However, the games are more than just competing in a sporting event or winning prize money and trophies.
This is what traveling is all about – meeting interesting people, sharing stories, and making connections that make the world seem a little smaller.
After checking out some music and grabbing a bite to eat, we stopped by a little later to watch these guys compete. I don’t think you can really appreciate what these guys do just reading about it.
And old acquaintances and new friends aside, their stories are much like mine and yours. They just happen to be a lot bigger, a lot stronger, and throw heavy objects around.
However, there’s more to the story than just this.
The rest of the Scottish Highlands Games athletes
Back in September, I received an email from a Scottish Games athlete named Wesley Allen. He lives in Utah and found my story online (Even Greg told me that a co-worker found my youtube video and showed it to him).
Wesley started out in C class in his first games and quickly moved to B class. He enjoyed my story about these guys and couldn’t wait to read the rest. He was hoping to become A class by this year.
Last week, I sent part III of my story to him about the athletes. And while he loved this story as well, he reminded me that not everyone is a pro and the amateurs love the sport and deserve some recognition as well.
On Saturday, I got the chance to meet one of the best amateurs out there – Jon O’Neil. Chad was kind enough to introduce me to Jon and tell me a little about his story. I was intrigued by Jon and rightly so.
I gave Jon my card and said I wanted to talk to him about his life and the games. Yesterday, Jon emailed me and said if I wanted to talk, just let him know. I will be following up on Jon’s story – and it’s one you don’t want to miss.
On Sunday, I got the chance to watch some of the other amateurs compete. Quite a few of them competed in the haggis toss with me. Every one of them threw it further than I did.
My haggis toss was 83 feet 7inches (I felt like you needed to be reminded of this). However, the winner of the Haggis toss? Josh Grace threw it over 115 feet. A number of guys threw it over 100 feet – longer than the tape measure itself.
I may have beaten all the regular guys out there but even the amateurs beat me. Like Wesley said in his email, they deserved some recognition and respect too.
Jon O’Neil dominated the Amateur A class. He won every event but one (he tied with two others in the caber toss). In all the other events, only one event was even close. Jon was dominating.
In the Amateur B class, Robert Krieger won and almost as convincingly as Jon. In the Amateur C class, RJ Sutherland was the winner edging out Nick Cressy. On the Women’s A side, Kristina Sisseck (Rusty’s sister) and Beth Burton tied for first.
So take a look at all of the results from the Sacramento Scottish Highlands Games (select the Sacramento Scottish Highlands Games in April). The amateurs, masters class, and women deserve some recognition also.
We all wear our kilts the same way
New friends, new perspective, old acquaintances.
For me, that was the theme of this year’s games. Like the Scottish culture and heritage itself, I came away with a greater appreciation for all the guys and girls who compete.
In life, we value the stock broker over the street sweeper. With our athletes, the professionals and the elite are our idols. Yet we have more in common with the amateurs than we do with the professionals.
That’s not the case with the Scottish Highlands Games professional athletes as they are just like us. They have full time jobs and families and know what it means to live in the real world.
This weekend was a good reminder – Even in a land of giants that we put on a pedestal, we all put on our kilts one leg at time.
Actually, you can put on a kilt with both legs at the same time as it is more like a skirt. However, you know what I mean.
Maybe a better analogy would have been – underneath our kilts, we are all the same. However, since the traditional Scot doesn’t wear anything under his kilt, maybe that’s not a good analogy either (or a good image).
Thanks to guys like Wesley Allen, Jon O’ Neil, and even the athletes like Chad Gustin, Sean Betz, Greg Bell, and Rusty Price. They show that being measured by our hearts, our character, passions, and effort matters.
Live your life in a way that counts and give your all no matter what you do – regardless of how far you can throw a braemar stone or a frozen 5 pound haggis.
Whether you are traveling or just living your life, what people in your life do you admire? Why?