TR Robertson — The Stage Field at Green Oak Ranch was the home last Saturday of the Valkyrie Women’s Highland Games and Strongwoman Competition. Twenty-one enthusiastic women, along with family members in attendance, took part in traditional Scottish and Celtic athletic events for the first time since 2020 when the Highland Games were held at the Queen Mary and since 2016 since the last all women’s events were held. Cathy Ballard, President of the Scottish American Athletic Association, said the all-women’s Highland Games usually draws between 80-100 participants, but with the COVID shut-downs the last couple of years, Easter weekend and travel situations had led to a smaller turn-out, but they were determined to start the games again and create more interest for next year. She also said they loved the Green Oaks Ranch site which they were able to obtain for the first time. Cathy runs the Political Science and International Relations Division at the University of Southern California.
In speaking with a number of the women participants, they come from all walks of life and many varied jobs. What they have in common is a love of competing, a love of comradery, an interest in Scottish heritage and just wanting to have a fun and an enjoyable time. Wandering from event to event it was evident that these women supported each other and cheered on each other regardless of the outcome of the competition. They all wanted to improve their skill level in the competitions, many of the participants competing for the very first time in each of the events. Sara Cullen, a first-year competitor in the Novice Division, was a little nervous, but she said she was excited to become involved. Family members Herbert Cash, Khafra Dickerson and Isiah Routt were there to cheer on Jennifer McClain, a four-year Highland Games participant from Long Beach.
The Valkyrie Women’s Highland Games began in 2013 at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho. Veteran participant Bethan Owen has been a 24-year participant in Highland Game events, prior to the beginning of the Valkyrie Women’s Games. The history of the Highland Games and the various events goes back to 1314, the time of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Earlier history of the games is a little hard to find. Some say the games date back to Ireland long before they arrived in Scotland. One thing is clear, the games were designed as a test of strength between the clans, surrounded with traditions and festivals. The modern games date to the 19th century and in the U.S. the first games were held in 1836 in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Valkyrie Games are strictly designed for competition and do not have vendors or other festival events like Scottish dancing, music, and food vendors. The first event for 2022, with all the Scottish and Celtic traditions and food, will be May 28-29 at the Costa Mesa Scottish Festival in the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. The San Diego Highland Games will be June 25-26 held in Vista’s Brengle Terrace Park. These games will feature not only the athletic events but will include vendors selling traditional Scottish items, food, drink, and performances ranging from dance to music. The Scottish American Athletic Association will be setting up the games for each of these festivals.
Photos by TR Robertson
The Valkyrie Women’s Highland Games and Strongwoman Competition featured all the traditional athletic events the larger festivals feature. The women were divided into different divisions based on ability. These divisions were Novice, A (elite), B, C, Women’s lightweight and Women’s Masters over age 40. They would rotate through the different athletic competitions as they completed their round. Various members of the SAAA served as judges and assistants at each competition.
The traditional athletic events the women competed in were:
Heavy Weight for distance with a 21 lb. weight
Light Weighty for distance with a 14 lb. weight
Heavy Hammer Throw with a 16 lb. weight
Light Hammer Throw with a 12 lb. weight
Braemar Stone Toss with a 13-16 lb. stone
Open Stone Toss with an 8-12 lb. stone
Weight Over a Bar Toss with a 28 lb. weight
Sheaf Toss with a 10 lb. sheaf (a bag resembling a small bale of hay)
Caber Toss with a 16 to 22 ft. wooden pole weighing 100-180 lbs.
Each woman received 3 tries at each of the events as they rotated through the circuit. Mathew Perlowski (called Monkey by those in attendance) was helpful in explaining the events and the techniques the women would use for each athletic competition. Monkey is a Senior Silicone Research Chemist for NuSil Technology LLC in Carpinteria, California, and a member of SAAA.
The final event of the day was the Strongwoman Events. The top 4 qualifying in this will move on to the All-American Stones of Strength Competition in San Clemente in October 2022. The Strongwoman Events featured:
Overhead log press – 120 lbs. for reps in 60 seconds
Atlas Stones on barrels – 3 stones of weights 120 lbs./175 lbs./200 lbs. in 60 seconds
Stone Medley – stones in weights 80 lbs./100 lbs./120 lbs./140 lbs. carried 10 meters in 90 seconds
Farmers Walk – 120 lbs. each hand carried for maximum distance – no time limit
The Scottish American Athletic Association’s mission is the preservation of Scottish and Celtic Cultures and is “the professional sanctioning body that provides rules, regulations, standards and implements for hosting both men’s and women’s Amateur and Professional Scottish Highland Game Athletic Competitions.” Overseeing this all-women’s competition, as well as working with other groups like the Sisterhood of Highland Throwers, they work to provide competitive, fun, entertaining, educational athletic events for men and women, as they follow traditions from long ago not only for the participants, but for the observers as well.
For more information go to www.saaa-national.org where a listing of upcoming events can be found as well as sites to learn more about each of the events and about this organization.