Eric Barber isn’t your typical weightlifter.
Instead of the benchpress or dumbbell curls, he prefers to toss a sheaf and a caber — and all while wearing a kilt.
“I guess you can say I like to throw trees for fun,” said Barber, 40, a Plant City native.
Barber, president of the Art Lounge and Gallery in Historic Downtown Plant City, has been competing in Highland games competitions for six years.
“I’ve always been big on my Celtic heritage,” Barber said about his interest in the Scottish-based sporting events. “All four of my grandparents are of Scott decent of some sort.”
Barber participated in football, soccer and wrestling growing up and took to martial arts after high school. Looking for something to stay active later in life, he found the perfect sport while visiting a Celtic festival in Palmetto.
“I ended up talking to some of the athletes and made a couple phone calls and, within a month, I was competing,” he said.
STRENGTH AND SKILL
Held annually in Scotland and other countries around the world, Highland games include a variety of events that combine strength, skill and endurance.
The games are perhaps best known for the caber toss, where athletes balance a long tapered pole in their hands, rested against their shoulder and throw it, end over end, after a running start. The throws are then measured both by distance and accuracy. The smaller end that the athlete was holding should hit the ground in the 12 o’clock position.
Other events include the sheaf — a 22-pound bag of rope that contestants use a pitchfork to throw for height — a heavy weight (56 pounds) throw for distance and height, a light weight (28 pounds) throw for distance, a stone put similar to the Olympic shot put, and the Scottish hammer throw, which is a 4-foot staff connected to a round metal ball that athletes spin and throw behind them.
To participate in the games, all athletes must compete in all of the events.
“Every event is different and requires a lot of technique,” said Barber, noting the stone throw is his best event.
Barber’s first event was the Zephyrhills Highland Games six years ago. Since then, he has competed in games all over the state, from the Panhandle to Ft. Lauderdale. In Florida, the typical season generally spans from January to April.
“I try and make as many of the games as I can,” Barber said.
The games are divided into divisions based on age and skill. Barber was recently able to compete in the masters division, which is reserved for athletes 40 and older.
He came in third in the masters division at the Sarasota Highland games in February, followed by a third-place finish at the Tampa Bay Celtic Festival and Highland Games Feb. 16, in Brandon.
Barber recently had one of his best showings yet last weekend at the Highland Fling at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. He medaled in six events, finishing second overall and had a personal best in the sheaf with a 24-foot throw.
Barber is now preparing for two more competitions March 16 and 17, at that same festival.
NOT AT ALL BASHFUL
Barber said he owned a kilt several years before getting involved with the games. It was something that represented his proud heritage.
“I hear jokes every now and then and certainly get a lot of stares and snickers when I’m wearing it,” he said. “You just have to have a sense of humor about it.
Everybody’s got their habit or hobby, and, luckily, I’m not shy, so it doesn’t bother me in the least bit.”
The type of athlete who competes in Highland games varies, but they all have one thing in common: They enjoy throwing heavy things.
“There’s a lot of guys that have been doing it a lot longer than I have, but we’ll get new guys in every season that try it out,” Barber said. “We might not all look like body-builders, but a lot of people are impressed by how strong we are.”
Barber said he only competes in the games for fun and enjoys building friendships with the other athletes.
“Some of the people I’ve met from this are good friends now,” he said. “It’s an interesting sport, (because) all of the athletes will help each other and give them pointers on events that they may not be particularly strong in.”
Barber gets with several of these friends to practice on Sundays, at Tampa’s Veterans Memorial Park, near the State Fairgrounds.
“We draw a lot of attention, sometimes,” he said. “Everyone wants to see why a bunch of guys are throwing around telephone poles.”anonymizer-vkontakte.com anonymizer-vkontakte.com