LINCOLN — In its 44th year, the hoot and a half that is the New Hampshire Highland Games is back at Loon Mountain Resort this weekend, bringing with it a lively and colorful celebration of all things Caledonian and featuring the return of the Heavy Athletics World Championship.
Presented by NH SCOT, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to “preserving and promoting Scottish culture for future generations,” the New Hampshire Highland Games are widely considered to be the largest, and arguably, the most successful event of its kind in the Northeast.
“It’s going to be an exciting and fierce year of competition on the athletic field,” said Terri Wiltse, the executive director of NH SCOT.
The soul of the games is the Heavy Athletics, and 2019 is even more special because the World Championship is back for the first time since 2010.
The competitors this year will include Chuck Kasson, the world champion in Heavy Athletics and winner of the 2018 NH Highland Games. A resident of the Cornhusker State who has a doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Kasson represents an international field from seven countries in pro-level events.
In the Legends division, which is one step below Pro, Bill Waddell will be the lone competitor from the Granite State. A resident of Springfield, Waddell, 43, is a 1995 graduate of Kearsarge Regional High School and a web developer who also happens to be ranked No. 8 in the masters division by North American Scottish Games Athletics.
Waddell, who with his wife Nyla, has three sons, also has the distinction of operating the only other Highland games in the Granite State, a decidedly lower-key, amateur-only event that is held annually as part of Springfield’s Old Home Day.
Because it is invitation-only, the New Hampshire Highland Games is “very prestigious” to compete in, said Waddell, who first started throwing some 15 years ago.
“I did an event in Maine, and I was hooked,” he said, conceding that being a heavy athlete has at times been “a crazy journey” marked by injuries.
Standing 6’4” tall and weighing 310 pounds, Waddell has worked through back pain, in the treatment of which he visited a local doctor whose son happened to play basketball with Hafthor Bjornsson while growing up.
A cager of ability and renown in his native Iceland, Bjornsson suffered from a recurring ankle injury that led to his competing in “strong man” competitions. Bjornsson is also an actor, having played Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” and he has been both a competitor and one of the biggest attractions, literally and figuratively, at past New Hampshire Highland Games.
Waddell, who will be competing in his eighth Highland Games, knows Bjornsson well, having met him many times at events. Heavy athletes are a close bunch, said Waddell, who added that camaraderie is one of the joys he gets from competing.
If watching elite invitation-only athletes throw stones, hammers or cabers isn’t your thing, there are many entertaining alternatives, Wiltse said.
“We’ve got music in three different venues; an expert to help you find your genealogy roots; cooking demos with Gary Maclean, the National Chef of Scotland; a whisky tasting tent; and free “Try It” classes in a variety of subjects, Wiltse said, ranging from how to play the bagpipes to how to lift a stone properly.
After a one year hiatus, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers — the world’s most famous bagpipe band — will be back at the games with a 7:30 p.m. concert Saturday. The Pipers are touring in support of their third album, “Blast Live,” which has gone triple-platinum.
In total, 11 music groups and soloists will perform at the Games, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pipe Band and Dancers, and there will be competitions in fiddle, piobairreachd, Scottish harp and solo piping and drumming.
There also will be a pipe band championship, drum corps challenge contest, pipe band medley challenge contest, quartet medley challenge contest, and a drum major competition.
To be held rain or shine, the games feature Highland dance performances and competitions, historical reenactments and, on Friday, sheep dog trials.
Clan Buchanan will be the honored clan, with Chief of Clan Buchanan, John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan, traveling to the Games with his family from Scotland to serve as the Games’ honorary chieftain.
For more information, go to NHSCOT.org or visit the organization’s Facebook page.