LAURINBURG — Christina Decker’s passion for competing at the Highland Games began with a suggestion from a close friend.
“I have a friend who is Scottish. I’m actually not,” Decker said during a break at the Scotland County Highland Games on Saturday. “She’s really big into heritage, and we used to go to festivals together all the time, like this one. She decided to compete and she was like, “You know what, I think you’re stronger than me. You should just come out and do it.’
“I did, and was immediately addicted.”
Decker, 39, has been competing in the Highland Games for almost two years. The Rock Hill, South Carolina, native’s next stop was Scotland County’s 10th annual installment of the Games, where she finished as the top competitor in the women’s division.
Around 35 throwers competed in seven different events at the Games on Saturday. `
The throwers were divided among four divisions: The ‘B’ division, the ‘A’ division, the masters division and the women’s division.
“The ‘B’s are men who are beginners,” said Scott Medlin, athletic director for the Southeastern Highland Athletics Group. “When they first start out, they have to hit certain numbers before they move up to an ‘A’. You have to win at least one game as a ‘B’ before you move up.”
The seven events included the open stone, heavy weight throw, light weight throw, Scottish hammer throw, turning of the caber, sheaf toss and weight over bar.
The turning of the caber was one of the heaviest throws at the Games. A caber is a trimmed, pole-like tree trunk.
Several different sizes of cabers were used in accordance with skill level. The cabers used in the event tend to range from 17 to 21 feet in size, and 70 to 160 pounds in weight.
Each competitor picks up the caber vertically and holds the smaller end of the tree in their hands. They then run forward and attempt to throw the caber with enough force to flip the tree end-over-end, with the larger end of the tree striking the ground before the the smaller end falls in a 12 o’clock position relative to the thrower.
“You have to be really explosive,” Decker said. “At first, you’re preparing for picking it up. You’re like, “I have to squeeze it, I have to do this, I have to lift it. I have to get it lined up.’ Once you get it there, you have to think about the next steps. I have to have force going forward. I have to have power. It’s back-to-back elements to make it work.”
Another event, the sheaf toss, had competitors use a pitchfork to toss a burlap bag filled with twine over a raised bar. The bag weighed 16 pounds for men and 12 pounds for women.
Athletes had three attempts to clear each height, and the bar was raised as each round passed. The goal was to have the highest successful toss.
Willie Danzer, 34, had the highest throw among male competitors with a final height of 22 feet.
“All things considered, with the way the weather’s been the last couple of weeks, I don’t think a lot of people have had the time practice,” Danzer said. “To be able to come out and throw close to a season-best and feel pretty good, I can’t complain about that.”
Medlin said participants in the games often recruit their friends to join them, similarly to how Decker was encouraged to compete.
“Usually, it’s a buddy system to get people started,” Medlin said. “And then it takes off. Once they try it, they’re hooked.”
Brandon Tester can be reached at [email protected] or 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.