The Antigonish Highland Games has collected plenty of strong-man stories in its 151-year history and a young fellow from Pictou is the subject of the most recent tale.
Marco MacLeod, 25, of Heathbell, stepped out of the crowd last Saturday to compete in the Cuairt nan Tuathanach or Farmer’s Walk. The event, which commemorates a time when physical prowess was closely tied to a farmer’s success, requires a competitor to pick up a 202 lb torpedo-shaped weight in each hand and walk a distance of 100 feet in as short a time as possible. The competitors are often festival circuit regulars who participate in traditional Scottish heavy events but it is an open competition, meaning anyone in the crowd who gets a hankering to flex his muscles is welcome to see how far he can tote the weights.
MacLeod first became aware of the event over a year ago when he was skimming a highland games brochure.
“My Dad (Alex) competed in strong man competitions when he was younger so I’d heard of them before. The Farmer’s Walk kind of appealed to me, the idea of lifting weights with a purpose, so I decided to give it a try.”
When he saw his competition at Columbus Field last year one thing became instantly clear.
“I realized it might not look too bad if I came in dead last because I was definitely on the smaller side.”
It is not that MacLeod, at six feet and 210 pounds, is a small guy but the highland festival circuits regularly attract men with arms and legs like telephone poles.
The second thing MacLeod realized was that there was a considerable difference between the weights he practised with on the family farm and the competition weights.
“My weights are actually heavier (420 lbs in total) but the shape is completely different. I hit my shin against one of my weights in Antigonish last year. If you wobble you really can’t recover. It is fair to say I did not stand out last year.”
Although disappointed in his performance, MacLeod was confident he could do better so he began practising again this spring.
“I lift weights twice a week at a gym in Pictou and I practised at home. I definitely wanted another shot at it.”
What he wanted this time was a nice clean run.
“I played rugby and soccer in school but I’m really not a competitive person. If I lose a game of cards I don’t care at all but it bothered me that I stumbled and I just wanted to do better than that.” MacLeod went to this year’s highland games by himself, dressed in his MacLeod Meadows Farm T-shirt. When the crowd was canvassed for any takers, he squared his shoulders and stepped forward.
“There were 13 guys in total, two of them smaller than me. The crowd likes the smaller guys so they were pretty fired up for my turn. In the beginning I just wanted a clean run. If I had a clean run I thought I could do it in under 10 seconds. Watching the competitors I started to think, if everything went right for me, I might have a shot at third place.”
Everything went right and then some. MacLeod had the clean run he wanted and delighted the crowd by making it in 9.01 seconds, garnering a first-place finish and $500 in prize money.
A third year engineering student at Dalhousie University, MacLeod said he will make good use of the prize money. There is no trophy to celebrate his accomplishment but he does have a video.
“At the last second I asked one of the guys competing with me to take a video on my phone. I’m glad I did because he did an amazing job. It is really cool for me to be able to watch it.”
MacLeod will finish out his summer testing gravel samples in Mount Thom but he credits his spring job with increasing his fitness.
“I fished lobster with Grant McCarthy from Three Books on the Silver Seas out of Caribou. I had to be up at 3:30 a.m. – and I got a lot of complaints from my family about heavy feet – because we were on the water by 4:30 a.m. I loved it but I hope my next job is in engineering. I’m studying mechanical engineering and I’m hoping to find work in the energy field.”
But if he happens to be back at MacLeod Meadows farm next summer when Antigonish Highland Games week rolls around, the chance to beat his own time may be hard to resist.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org