We had the opportunity to do an email interview with two of the athletes who will be competing at the Highland Games and Celtic Festival. Braidy Miller is the world record holder for the caber toss and Mandy Keefer is one of the first female athletes to compete in the Middle Tennessee Highland Games.
The Highland Games will be at The Hermitage on September 10, 2016. Tickets are still available. Visit The Hermitage or Middle Tennessee Highland Games for more information. Read about last year’s games here.
We asked you what you wanted to know about the games and here are the answers.
What inspired you to get involved in Highland athletics?
Braidy: A friend from college called about nine years ago and told my brother and me about the games. Been hooked since then.
Mandy: I was looking for something to stay active after college. I was looking into powerlifting or strongwoman competitions; but I had a friend in Philadelphia who was a Pro Highland Games athlete, Steve Pulcinella, who suggested I give the games a try since I had thrown discus and shot in high school. I was lucky enough to meet up and become training partners with Mike (Pro Highland Gamer) and Mindy Pockoski (world record holder in WFD and WOB) in Las Vegas who taught me everything.
They aren’t traditional sports, so how did you hear about them, and what made you decide you wanted to participate?
Braidy: I like the challenge of getting better. Training, strength and technique. I was a collegiate discus and hammer thrower years ago and always enjoyed throwing.
Mandy: I knew I was hooked after my first practice. I felt like I was going to vomit from all the spinning, and I knew I wanted to do this more.
How long have you been training for your events? What exactly do you do to train?
Braidy: I’ve been throwing at Highland Games for about eight years. I lift weights and train the throws.
Mandy: What exactly do you do to train? I have weight-trained since I was in high school, but I began training in Highland Games events in 2006. Training consists of weightlifting as well as sport specific drills and throwing implements.
How is training for this different from training for a more “traditional” event like a run or bike race?
Braidy: This type of sport is very taxing on the body. This is not cardio. Overall strength and technique for the events is crucial. There are multiple events to train for. Highland Games are kind of the Scottish version of the decathlon.
Mandy: It seems nontraditional, but really it is just like other sports in the aspect of training philosophy. Training components include weight training, cardio and sport-specific.
How does one train for the caber toss? It doesn’t look like something you can take to a park to practice. Are there special training facilities for these events?
Braidy: My brother and I just cut our own cabers and practice in my backyard.
Mandy: Besides Olympic lifting, training for the caber is really just practicing with a caber in an open field to learn timing and balance.
What is your favorite part of training for the games?
Braidy: My favorite part is the internal battle in my head. Trying to get better and compete at the highest level is very mentally demanding.
Mandy: There is something very satisfying in throwing and being physical. Plus I love being outside.
When you first started, what was your favorite game to participate in? And has that changed over the years?
Braidy: The Dublin (Ohio) festival is probably my favorite. Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is also a favorite because of how closely it resembles the games of Scotland more than just Heavy Events.
Mandy: My first and favorite was the Las Vegas Highland Games. It was the only game that my family and friends could easily come to watch and have fun. My favorite games I competed in would be Scottish Highland Gathering & Games in Pleasanton, Calif., because we threw two events in front of the grandstands of a horse track. The crowd’s energy was amazing.
Do you travel with the Highland Games to participate in more events?
Braidy: I travel all over the country to compete in professional games.
Mandy: Yes, I travel as much as I can. I have competed in Nevada, California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Kentucky and Tennessee so far.
Have you ever gotten hurt as a result of the Highland Games athletics?
Braidy: Yes, injuries are very common in this sport. I have spent most of the summer recovering from a couple of injuries.
Mandy: I have suffered from numerous bumps and bruises, but luckily I have never experienced a serious injury from Highland Games events.
Is it hard to participate in a kilt?
Braidy: I have not had any issues competing with a kilt on. You just get used to it.
Which event is the most difficult?
Braidy: All the events are very technical. I think when someone is just starting out the caber may be one of the more challenging events.
Mandy: For me, weight over bar is the event I struggle with the most. I am only 5-foot-2, so I am at a disadvantage when throwing for height naturally.
Have you won any medals or set any records?
Braidy: I have won many games and awards over the years. My boys love all the swords and battle axes that I have won. I currently hold several Masters-level age group world records. These can be found at the Scottish Masters International website.
Mandy: I won the 2007 North American Scottish Athletic Championship in the Women’s B Class. I think I might still hold the hammer field records for the Portland Highland Games, but I’d have to check that because someone else might have beat my marks by now.
Tell us your best story about competing in the Highland Games.
Braidy: I have many stories from the games. I think my favorite part is the fact that all the athletes help each other and cheer for one another during the games. For me, I only compete against myself, and I hope everyone else has a good day.
Mandy: One of my favorite memories was throwing sheaf at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas in 2013. It is a loud and crowded place, but I could hear a little girl in the crowd cheering for me.