Get out your bagpipes and kilts, because on Memorial Day weekend Scottish and Celtic culture will be showcased in all its glory at Gallabrae, presented by the Greenville Scottish Games.
Held May 27 at Furman University, Gallabrae is one of many Highland games around the world that celebrates the traditions and customs of the Scots and Celts. In addition to live music, a classic British car show, and Border Collie herding demonstrations, Gallabrae wouldn’t be complete without the heavy athletics competition.
Sixty-seven athletes from across the country will compete in four events: the stone throw, hammer throw, caber toss, and sheaf toss. All feature heavy objects and showcase the strength, endurance, and agility of the athletes, who are divided by age, gender, and experience level.
Eric Snow, 58, of Boiling Springs has been a heavy athletics competitor for eight years. He says he would have competed sooner but had previously heard “urban myths” that being Scottish or joining a clan were requirements for heavy athletics participation, neither of which is true. “You just have to like to lift weights and throw heavy stuff,” he clarifies.
Snow got his start in heavy athletics while living in California. He had early success in the games, which may have led him to underestimate the overall difficulty of the events. “I came back to the Southeast with all these big country boys and got taught a good lesson,” he says. “I had to start training really hard to keep up with these guys. I think we have some of the best throwers in the world, hands down.”
Of the events, Snow says his favorite is the stone throw, because it has similarities to discus throwing, which he once competed in as a member of Clemson University’s track and field team. “That’s the one that’s easy for me, and I win it a lot,” he adds. “That’s a low-hanging fruit.”
Snow’s initial conditioning for heavy athletics began with basic weight training, focusing on squats and deadlifts. He then transitioned into Olympic lifting. “If you have enough time, then you’d want to move into CrossFit to start working on speed and overall athleticism,” he says.
Adam Sherengos, 27, of Garden City is a newcomer to the world of heavy athletics. He participated in his first games in March at the Myrtle Beach Highland and Heritage Festival. Gallabrae will be his second competition.
Sherengos decided to get involved in heavy athletics to honor his Celtic heritage and simply because it looked fun. “I’m definitely one of those people that has bagpipes in my iTunes library. As soon as I learned about the games, I was drawn to it,” he says. “It’s such a fun time. There’s so much going on at the festival. If you like the Celtic style, the Scottish stuff, it’s the best place to go.”
In order to participate in the Myrtle Beach games, Sherengos was required to find a training partner. He connected with JW Stafinski, an experienced heavy athletics competitor who has helped train many newcomers. To prepare, Sherengos focused on Strongman-style weightlifting, made frequent visits to the gym, and found training videos on YouTube.
“I honestly just went outside and found a lot of heavy rocks and logs,” he says with a laugh. “Everyday just going out and throwing those and trying to get the technique down. A lot of it is about agility and technique. It’s not all about strength.”
Sherengos, who is a former high school lacrosse player, says the caber toss is his favorite event. “It really shows the ultimate strength of someone. It’s so difficult. It’s almost iconic to the games,” he says.
Along with the spirited and friendly competition, both Snow and Sherengos mention the overall camaraderie that develops among the athletes as a highlight of participating in heavy athletics.
“Once you start, you only have to go to like two or three events and people get to know you and start talking smack. It’s just a lot of fun,” Snow says.
“The thing that makes it different is the people involved. They’re tight-knit, and people are always willing to help you out. That’s what I really liked about it.” Sherengos adds.
Gallabrae, presented by Greenville Scottish Games
May 27, 8:30 a.m.–8 p.m.
Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway
Adults: $15 advance/$20 at gate; Children (6–12): $8 advance/$10 at the gate; Children under 5: Free
Purchase tickets in advance