LERNA — After lifting a burlap bag filled with rope, Devin Rowe swung his shoulders from side to side before tossing the heavy bag over his shoulder and across the high bar behind him.
This Decatur resident and fellow members of the Springfield-based Old School Athletic Club demonstrated sheaf toss and other Highland games Saturday during the historic harvest season at the site of the Lincoln Lodge Cabin. Their feats of strength and the festival will run from 10am to 4pm on Sunday.
Rowe said he enjoyed watching the Highland Games, a celebration of Scottish athletics and tradition, on television, but never thought he would be able to take part. Then he attended a club area event last year. He’s been competing in the games ever since, including hoisting a 22-foot-tall, 120-pound spiked pole for a cabin throw.
“Coming in during my freshman year and being able to do the cab throw was a big feeling,” Rowe said. The club is part of the Society of St. Andrews of Central Illinois.
She took competing in the Highland Row Games to other states within a six-hour radius of Decatur, often with his wife in tow. Amber Rowe said she appreciates the inclusivity of the games: “It’s for all ages. It’s for all genders. Anyone can do it.”
Longtime track and field member Charlie Kahler, who is in her third year with the club, said she tried the Highland Games as a different way to stay fit after the age of 40. Kahler said she later found that she really loved fitness and physics. the games.
“It has really changed my life in so many positive ways that I never expected,” Kahler said, adding that she now travels around the country competing and plans to participate in an international event.
Club member Clinton Randolph of Washington said the Highland Games were a fun family activity for him, his wife, Carmen, and their 13-year-old daughter, Izzy.
“We both come from fitness backgrounds, so we decided to give it a try,” Randolph said. “We love it.”
Sports director Merle Lawless said the Highland Games began more than 1,000 years ago as a way for Scottish clans to identify and recruit natural athletes to become fighters. He said the tradition continues to this day as friendly competitions celebrating Celtic culture.
Izzy Randolph helped several kids from the Harvest Frolic crowd of vintage track and field on Saturday try a bite-sized version of the cab throw and the Scottish hammer throw, which involves a round metal weight.
Emery Stodden of Trella, who has Scottish heritage, said she enjoyed watching her daughters, 9-year-old Estella and 5-year-old Charlotte, learn about the Highland Games.
“It’s so cool that we can see this in person. I hope they come back,” Stodden said, noting that her daughters also made a rope and a doll out of corn husks at Harvest Frolick’s 1840s artisan booths. “That’s what’s beautiful. They have to deal with things.”
Andrew and Ashley Hensley of Mattoon watched the Highland games with their children, 3-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Davina, while getting ready to check out the rest of the festivities at the Lincoln Log Cabin.
“It’s interesting. It’s very exciting and a bit dangerous,” Andrew Hensley said of the Highland Games. “It’s good to see different sports than what we’re used to,” Ashley added.
Call Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861.