Highland Games catch on with local athletes

Topaz gearing up for annual Highland Games Scottish festival

Alex Norman-Ross is one of 10 local athletes who'll compete at this weekend's Victoria Highland Games festival.

Whether you flip the caber right away or it takes a few tries, there’s no easing into the Highland Games.

For 20-year-old Alex Norman-Ross, a Camosun College marketing and communications student, this weekend will mark her second year competing at the Victoria Highland Games at Topaz Park.

The games run Saturday and Sunday (May 21-22), with a jam packed menu of and all things Scottish from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, including: top-level pipe bands, the kilted mile, whisky tasting, two beer gardens, sheepdog exhibitions and a stage packed with Celtic entertainment and dancers.

The heavy events take place on the highest field, with novices and amateurs in the morning and the professionals in the afternoon. Among the pros are five-time world champ Ryan Vierra and five-time Canadian champ Greg Hadley, as well as Larry Brock and Sean Betts, who finished first and second, respectively, at the Victoria Highland Games last year when it served as the world championships.

Despite all the heavy hitters, all Norman-Ross is asking from herself is an improvement on her scores from last year.

There’s a lot more to throwing the heavy implements, as they’re known, than flipping the 14-foot caber (pole) weighing 50 pounds, says the former track athlete.

“We’re a very positive group of people who meet on Sunday’s to throw and it’s all about personal bests,” she said.

That group has taken on a name, the Vancouver Island Scottish Throwing Association (VISTA), and meets in a field beside the airport in Sidney.

In explaining this to others, Norman-Ross often hits a humourous speed bump, she laughs.

“As soon as its mentioned that I compete in the Highland Games the next piece of conversation is, ‘Oh, with the tree thing?’”

That tree thing, the caber, is a ton of fun, she admits, though it can take some people quite a few training sessions before they actually pick it up. Norman-Ross was successful at her second throwing session.

Chalk it up to her track and field experience.

In a way, she’s a natural fit for the sport. Since graduating as Claremont secondary’s female athlete of the year in 2007-08, Norman-Ross has twice finished fourth overall in B.C. for the hammer throw, last year at the senior level. She also coaches with the Peninsula track and field club.

Organizing committee member and amateur thrower Carl Jensen points to the success of the annual festival leading to the growth of the sport on the Island.

“Back at Bullen Park in 2005, we were 12 athletes total, six amateurs, and all were from out of town.

“Six years later we have our own local throwing crew, with 10 of us competing. That’s 33 amateurs and 43 in total this weekend. We’ve become one of the premier games in the northwest (of the continent).”

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