It all started Friday, with a text in the Lehigh Track and Field Thrower group message that said, “For all those who don’t follow Dan McKim on Instagram… He has officially landed and is at MOD pizza”. Knowing that MOD Pizza was only a few minutes away, it was quickly followed up with “See you at MOD in ten minutes”. To say members of the Lehigh track team were excited for another year of volunteering at the Celtic Classic Highland Games was an understatement.
Since before I started at Lehigh, members of the track team, specifically the throwers have volunteered at the U.S. Highland Games National Championship held on the field at Celtic Classic. It mostly attracted the interest of the throwers because the events done by the professional athletes correlate directly to discus, shot put, weight, and hammer. Therefore, most of the athletes are former high school and collegiate throwers. In the tight-knit, but very small and sometimes undervalued, throwing community, being able to connect with the athletes and watch the events sheds a lot of light on a sport that usually doesn’t get a lot of attention, something both sides can equally appreciate.
This year, nine members of the team volunteered at different times on Saturday and Sunday.
As members of the Highland Field Crew, we retrieve implements for the athletes during the events, and after each event, we add dirt to divots or holes so the athletes don’t injure themselves. For events like the light hammer, we just have to carry the implement back to the athletes.
For caber, a 15-20 foot wooden telephone-like pole, five or six volunteers have to pick up the implement, carry it back on our shoulders, and carefully stand the pole back up for the athlete. It looks simple, but it actually requires practice and is pretty stressful. If we don’t plant the pole in between the athlete’s feet and communicate with him, the pole can easily tip forward or backward and people can get injured. Also, if we don’t all push at the same time or fast enough, the caber can fall different ways as well. It takes a few practice tries to get the hang of it, but once we try it a few times and make sure to communicate, things go smoothly.
For the throwers, this opportunity for us to volunteer gives us a chance to break out of the infamous “Lehigh bubble” and make connections in the Bethlehem community. We interact with the crowd throughout the day and the announcer frequently tells the crowd about our involvement. Also, we get to spend a lot of time talking to the men who run the field crew while retrieving and form great relationships with them. I send them our indoor and outdoor track schedules, and they try their best to come to our Lehigh vs. Lafayette dual meets dressed in their kilts to cheer us on. Chip, the field marshall who coordinates everything, has really made an effort to get to know a lot of us. When he comes to our meets, he makes sure to talk to each of us and find out our best marks, so he knows if we have a good throw. Having an extra person cheering for us definitely makes a difference.
In addition, we also get to talk to the Highland Games athletes, who come to the Celtic Classic for the U.S. National Championships. I don’t think many people realize that these athletes train year-round for these competitions, and the one at Celtic is the last of the season. The athletes have to be in the U.S. top ten rankings to qualify. Although they take it seriously, the athletes also have a lot of fun while competing. They joke around with us and each other, involve the crowd, and always support whichever competitor is throwing. It’s a really fun environment to be a part of.
After the events, we sometimes have time to talk to the athletes, and they ask us about our upcoming seasons and careers. We get to talk about throwing and training, and then are able to continue to follow their training and stay connected through social media. Dan McKim, who has won three out of the four years I have participated, works for Sorinex, a strength equipment company, and installs sophisticated weight rooms in college athletic centers around the country. He posts videos of his training, as well as satirical stories and videos about being a man who is much larger than normal.
Matt Vincent, another big name in the Highland Games, created his own brand and promotes it on his social media pages, as well as posting videos of his training programs and trips to competitions. The throwing history the athletes have as well as their continued strength training make them relatable to us as college throwers. By following these athletes, we become more invested in the Highland Games, which makes us more excited to work the event during Celtic Classic.
So on Sunday, with sunburnt faces and Aw Shucks Corn in hand, we said our goodbyes to fellow volunteers and took our annual flexing pictures with the athletes. Until next year Celtic Classic, because although I’m graduating, there is a pretty high chance I’ll be back.
It’s really interesting to stay connected with these athletes in the offseason and I highly recommend following them or at least checking out their profiles on Instagram.