ALMA – The Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games hosted a modified heavy events competition in hopes of bringing back some of the festival spirit to athletes and members of the community.
Amid an afternoon downpour, the event ran July 24 11am to 4pm. Footage from the event will be included in the festival’s virtual weekend event, Aug. 13 to 15.
“We were all totally soaked to the bone, but everyone was very happy because despite the weather we were doing the kind of stuff that we love,” festival coordinator Elizabeth Bender explained.
Bender said with pandemic restrictions easing and Ontario moving up the steps of its reopening plan, organizers were presented with an opportunity to hold an in-person competition where athletes could be scored.
“With the phasing we were sticking to our guns in terms of the virtual event but Warren Trask, heavy events chair, put together the idea of having a very small by invitation only competition,” Bender explained.
“We kind of broke it all down: what could we do safely, how could we manage the crowd, and we were able to pull it off.”
Despite weather conditions, eight athletes competed and the festival invited a select number of its lead volunteers who were screened upon arrival.
Bender said being able to host the event in person again could be summed up in two words: “absolutely amazing.
“We were all just so happy to be back together doing what we do best, which is planning an event and carrying it out with great success, despite the weather.”
She added those who were able to attend the event said it was great to feel the festival spirit again.
“It doesn’t leave, the festival spirit, but doing it live versus online makes a huge difference, so it felt amazing.”
Bender said it would have been nice to have been able to extend the event to the whole community but there’s too many moving parts to putting on the in-person event.
“It would have been great if we could have pulled that off, but we just couldn’t this year with how the phasing worked,” she explained.
“It was too short notice for us and we’re well into our virtual event.”
The virtual gates open Aug. 13 at 5pm and the festival will go live on the site. Videos will be accessible throughout the weekend.
“I think it will lift spirits and it’s just one tiny step in the right direction that we were able to do this safely,” Bender explained.
“We are really truly this year trying to bring the sight and the sound and the feeling of Fergus to people’s homes so they can enjoy it safely and build that excitement for next year.
“Even virtually, I think it’s still something to look forward to.”
For more information, on the virtual event visit www.fergusscottishfestival.com.
Meet the competitors
The Advertiser had a chance to speak with some of the competitors prior to the event’s kick off Saturday.
Brother duo Craig and Alex McCormick got into competing in the summer of 2019. This was their first time competing in Fergus.
“Alex suggested it as a brother rivalry to see who was better and we just started doing it two years ago,” Craig explained.
“Our first year was the summer before Covid so we took the last year and a half to get a bit better – well, hopefully anyways,” Alex added with a laugh.
The pair grew up in Glengarry, home to the Maxwell Highland Games, so they were well acquainted with the competition.
“We grew up going to the games and as we got older, we were like we might as well get into it and it’s a good way to stay active and have a little bit of healthy competition,” Craig said.
Lorne Colthart, who moved to Canada three years ago, got into the games through family and has been competing since he was 14.
Initially from Scotland, Colthart said he would compete in roughly 35 events a year.
In Canada, he said he competes in 10 to 15 a year.
Hammer throw is usually his favourite event, he explained – and where he’s most consistent.
“You have to be good at every event to really succeed,” he added.
Jamie Trask, who also competes alongside his brother Jessie, has been attending the Highland Games since before he was born, he explained.
His dad, Warren Trask, has been competing for over 35 years.
Having been competing since he was 13, Trask, now 23, said it feels good to be back in person competing again.
“It’s awesome. It’s been two years since the last real (competition) and to see these people over the course of the summer you become close and you kind of know what’s going on in each other’s lives and then all of a sudden you don’t see them for two years.
“So, it’s nice to catch up with a lot of these people again.”
“I think just getting back to some sort of normalcy is great,” Alex added. “We’re sitting here in a field with other people instead of staying at our houses so we couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Colthart, who competed in the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games three years in a row leading up to the pandemic, said the time off has been a nice break for him.
“I’ve done it since I was 14 so it was kind of nice to have a summer or two to myself,” he explained.
“Any weekend I was off I was competing, but I’m definitely ready to get back into it now and it’s just great to be back out and at it.”