Brothers George and Nick McLaren spent Sunday in an open field at the old Army depot in Granite City doing what they enjoy best — throwing heavy things.
The McLarens were throwing sheaves, slinging hammers, hurling stones and tossing cabers — logs that weigh 100 pounds.
“I love it,” George said. “It’s almost like being 12 years old again when you are standing on the street with a buddy with a football and see how far you can throw this.”
The McLaren brothers compete for the Gateway Cabermen, a group that trains and teaches other people to train for the Scottish Highland Games events.
“For two solid years, we’ve been doing practices out here and we practiced from March until October,” Nick said. “We have as many practices as we can in as many weeks as we can unless we’re going out to compete.”
Joining the McLarens on Sunday were Bryan Funk and Nate Thobaben. Funk finished first in a competition in Oklahoma last week. Thobaben attended his first practice on Sunday.
Funk placed first in the Iron Thistle Highland Games in Yukon, Okla., after joining the Gateway Cabermen in March.
“Bryan competed in the C class and won,” George said. “He got promoted to a B class. That’s pretty exclusive because there were other guys he was competing against who were in C class for a couple of years.”
The Highland Games are held in the spring and summer in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture.
There are nine throwing events in the Highland Games. Competitors toss two types of stones — a 22-pound Braemar stone and a 16-pound Open stone. There are two weight throws, 56-pound and 28-pound; and two Scottish hammer throws, 16-pound and 22-pound. There’s a weight over bar competition, in which athletes toss a 56-pound weight over a bar. There also are the sheaf toss — in which athletes take a pitchfork and toss a 20-pound bag over a bar — and the caber throw.
Athletes must wear a kilt when competing.
“It’s a cultural event as well as a sporting event,” George said. “There are legends of history behind why we do what we do. The English took away all of the Scottish weapons at one point of time in history, so the Scottish were forced to used different implements to build strength and to train for combat. They couldn’t have weapons. At one point, the English outlawed kilts in Scotland.”
George, who played hockey and basketball, decided to compete in throwing three years ago. Nick later joined his brother on the Gateway Cabermen squad.
“This is the only sport that I competed in where literally somebody who’s better than you during a game and during an event will teach you how to beat them during the event,” said George, 48. “I love it. Plus, when everybody throws, it’s like a family.”
George said throwing heavy objects is not easy.
“You’re going to be terrible for a little while doing this because it will test your patience and it will test your strength,” he said. “It will test your coordination. Some of them are completely foreign to what you will think. The skill is there. It will get developed. It takes some time. Usually you really start throwing well in the second or third year and then you really start making improvements in your second year of throwing. There is some skill involved; mostly it’s patience — the patience to realize that you’re not going to be great.”
There is no cost to join the Gateway Cabermen. Men and women of all ages are welcome to join.
“We would love to have more people from the area who want to get out and throw heavy stuff to come out and join us,” said Nick, 42. “Everybody will teach everybody how to throw.”
For more information, contact the Gateway Cabermen on their Facebook page.
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