Kilts and cabers? Only for the brave hearted


The Mirror

Jason Payne is used to wearing green.

The 28-year-old Federal Way resident is part of the United States Army special forces, stationed out of Fort Lewis. So camouflage green gets a lot of run in Payne’s wardrobe.

However, his background as one of the toughest of the tough the Army has to offer doesn’t really lend itself to looking in the mirror to check if his kilt is hanging off his hips correctly.

But that’s exactly what Payne will do in preparation for the 61st annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering at the Enumclaw Expo Center, which will be held July 27-29.

Payne and dozens of other men and women will converge on Enumclaw for one of the biggest Scottish athletics competitions in the nation.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Payne said. “It’s one of the best around. And one of the rules is that you have to wear a kilt.”

So Payne doesn’t mind strapping on his green plaid kilt and tossing around stones, 20-foot branchless trees and burlap bags with a pitchfork.

“People always ask me what’s under the kilt,” Payne said. “And my standard answer is ‘my shoes.’”

Payne is a relative newcomer to the Highland Games athletic events. This is only his second summer making the rounds around competitions in the Pacific Northwest.

“Before I joined the Army, I lived in Texas and had some friends that competed in this,” Payne said. “So I did it a little bit. And once I joined the Army I was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., and I just got bored and came across an advertisement and got into it.”

In their original form many centuries ago, the Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics what the games are all about — in short, that the athletics are the games, and all the other activities are just entertainment.

The Enumclaw gathering will also feature the US West Drum Corps championships, the Northwest Regional Harp Finals, individual bag piping and drumming, pipe bands and Highland and national dancing, among other things.

But the athletic competition is why a majority of the people attend. For nearly a thousand years, clansmen, chiefs and competitors came from all over Scotland and banded together to compete against one another in what is often defined as one of the most rigorous forms of competitions in the world.

According to tradition, one of the first Highland Games was held toward the end of the 11th century when King Malcolm Canmore became concerned about the way in which important news and documents were delivered to high highland retreat. He needed strong, healthy runners that were full of stamina. To achieve this, he had them race against one another over rocky terrain to the top of Craeg Choinnich. The winner received a sword, a purse of gold and the title of the King’s Messenger. This became what is now known as the Scottish Highland Games.

The athletic competition isn’t for everybody. The events combine strength and technique and include a wide variety of throwing competitions. Events include several stone throws of various weights, similar to the shot put in track and field; stone throws with a handle, similar to the hammer toss; the caber toss, which requires a person to flip over a 150-pound trimmed-up tree; the sheaf toss, which has the athlete use a pitch fork and toss a stuffed burlap bag over a cross bar, and the 56-pound weight for height.

“It just gives me a reason to stay in shape,” Payne said. “Working out gets kind of boring when you aren’t doing it for a reason. It’s my softball. One of the biggest things I enjoy is competing against my friends. It is a tight-knit community, but I want to be able to beat them. It’s always fun to win.”

Payne won’t be the biggest guy competing next weekend in Enumclaw. He stands 6 feet tall and weighs 220 pounds, but has really taken to the sport, which he credits to his participation in track when he was in high school in Texas.

“I had a little experience doing that kind of stuff,” Payne said. “But to be good at this, you really need to work on your strength and by going to the gym and getting stronger.”

Payne will be competing in the highly-competitive Amateur A division at the Enumclaw Highland Games, which is one level below the top professional division. Last year, his first in the competition, Payne finished in third place overall in the Amateur B division and was promptly “bumped up” by the event’s organizer.

Payne admits that the intense training he does inside the Army’s special forces unit at Fort Lewis has helped a ton in excelling in the Highland sports during his short time as a competitor. But he is still a long way from making his mark as a professional in the Scottish games.

“It is definitely a unique hobby,” Payne said. “It is totally just strength training, and in the Army you have to do a lot of running and endurance. But the professionals who will be there are just phenomenal. They throw 30 feet farther than me and that might as well be the other side of the world. I don’t know how they do it.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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