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Highland Games professionals in it for love, not money

Mike Nesper
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Mark Eppihimer competes in the weight for height competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. Competitors must toss a 56 pound weight as high as possible over the bar.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Dan Williams competes in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors in the Skinny Raven sponsored “kilted mile” run at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart attempts to flip the “challenge caber,” a 20 foot long, 127 pound log at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. It has only been successfully flipped by two people, including Dan Williams at this year’s event.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Five bagpipe bands gathered together for a welcome processional at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. The bands and individual pipers later competed for top honors.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch James Gibson competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the weight throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Mark Eppihimer competes in the weight for height competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. Competitors must toss a 56 pound weight as high as possible over the bar.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors watch another athlete in the caber toss competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. A caber toss is successful when the log, up to 20 feet long and sometimes weighing over 120 pounds, is flipped end over end.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Dan Williams competes in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Jody Potosky competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart attempts to flip the “challenge caber,” a 20 foot long, 127 pound log at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. It has only been successfully flipped by two people, including Dan Williams at this year’s event.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Five bagpipe bands gathered together for a welcome processional at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. The bands and individual pipers later competed for top honors.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch James Gibson competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the weight throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors watch another athlete in the caber toss competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. A caber toss is successful when the log, up to 20 feet long and sometimes weighing over 120 pounds, is flipped end over end.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors in the Skinny Raven sponsored “kilted mile” run at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Jody Potosky competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Five bagpipe bands gathered together for a welcome processional at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. The bands and individual pipers later competed for top honors.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart, competing in the pro class, competes in the hammer throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Mark Eppihimer competes in the weight for height competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. Competitors must toss a 56 pound weight as high as possible over the bar.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch James Gibson competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the weight throw at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors in the Skinny Raven sponsored “kilted mile” run at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Dan Williams competes in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Competitors watch another athlete in the caber toss competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. A caber toss is successful when the log, up to 20 feet long and sometimes weighing over 120 pounds, is flipped end over end.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch The tug-o-war competition at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Ryan Stewart attempts to flip the “challenge caber,” a 20 foot long, 127 pound log at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer. It has only been successfully flipped by two people, including Dan Williams at this year’s event.
Loren Holmes
LOREN HOLMES / Alaska Dispatch Jody Potosky competes in the Men’s Amateur A class in the caber toss at the Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Palmer.
Loren Holmes

PALMER -- Professional athletes Larry Brock, Greg Bell and Ryan Stewart have a unique requirement for their game-day attire -- to show some leg.

Donning kilts and knee-high socks, Brock, Bell and Stewart were among the pros who competed in Saturday's Alaska Scottish Highland Games at the Alaska State Fairgrounds. Although they compete professionally, they say most Highland Games pros don't earn a living from the sport.

"It's a part-time job-slash-hobby," said Stewart, a fifth-year pro who competes in about 15 events a year.

The event host pays for airfare and lodging for invited professionals, and there is some prize money, but mainly it's an athletic outlet, said Bell, a former football player at Western Washington's now-defunct program.

"It fills a competitive drive," he said. "It gives you something to work toward instead of lifting for aesthetics."

Bell, a sales manager from Seattle, said he typically flies out on a Friday night for an event that starts Saturday morning. After a day of hurling heavy weights and trying to flip cabers, he heads home Sunday afternoon and it's back to work Monday -- unless the state he's visiting happens to have world-class fishing.

Brock, who played football and ran track at Appalachian State, turned pro in 2002 and has competed in seven countries and 30 states. At the height of his career, Brock was competing in nearly 40 events a year.

Saturday marked his ninth and final competition in Alaska -- Brock plans to retire this year.

"The best people in the Games are in Alaska," he said. "There ain't a better run game in the world."

Throughout his time on the circuit, Stewart has seen more athletes turn pro, new festivals begin and existing Games grow.

Alaska is no exception. The 33rd edition of the Highland Games moved to the fairgrounds this year after outgrowing its former venue in Eagle River. Last year, about 10,000 people filled Lions Park, requiring the move, Highland Games chair Chris Anderson said.

In two years, the annual Scottish festivities will see an influx of international competitors when Alaska hosts the 2016 world championships, Anderson said.

Participating in Highland Games requires a year-round regiment of throwing and weight lifting.

"When you're not competing, you're training," Bell said. "You have to put in hard work. If you're lazy, you can't do this and do it well."

Enduring eight field events isn't easy. Saturday's competition included two stone-throwing events, similar to shot put, and two hammer throws, also reminiscent of the track and field event.

There were two weight-throwing events, where athletes heaved metal weights via a chain-attached handle, and the fan-favorite caber toss, which tests balance and strength as athletes attempt to flip a tapered log end over end.

The was also a weight-for-height event, in which athletes try to toss a weight over a horizontal bar using just one hand.

Along with the professional division, there were eight amateur flights, six for men and two for women.

"There's really a class for everybody," Brock said. "If I wasn't professional, I may never retire."

Bell said the pros who gravitate toward the Highland Games are hard-working athletes who want to have fun.

"I can't think of a person I wouldn't get a beer with," he said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By MIKE NESPER
mnesper@adn.com