You may be surprised to learn that many competitors in the ancient Scottish heavy events are professionals who compete on an international circuit. To give you a better glimpse of the life of a professional thrower, here are some answers to many frequently asked questions.
Q: What exactly is the international highland games circuit?
A: Celebrations of Scottish culture are held around the world, nearly year round. Many of these highland games are very large festivals that attract thousands of spectators. Among the most popular events at these highland games are the heavy events; tests of strength dating back to the 11th century. This network of games constitutes a circuit that is open to both professional and amateur heavy event competitors. The professional circuit can take an athlete around North America, Europe and the South Pacific.
Q: What does it mean to be a Professional Highland Games Athlete?
A: Professional ‘heavies’ are throwers who have achieved a great deal of mastery in the sport. The road to becoming pro is typically quite involved. Athletes will generally enter the sport at small, local competitions in the amateur class. Depending on the results of those initial competitions, an athlete may choose to travel to larger amateur meets and begin to ‘make a name for himself’. When an athlete feels he is ready to turn pro, he’ll usually enter a large amateur championship to test himself against other top AMs. If the results are favorable, a decision to ‘turn pro’ is usually made.
Q: What does being a ‘pro’ mean?
A: Professional highland games athletes are entitled to win prize money as well as have their travel expenses paid when attending competitions. Professional class competitions are held around the World and have produced some truly international sporting stars.
Q: How much can a professional highland games athlete make?
A: It varies. Top level athletes, who also have private sponsors, have made upwards of $50,000 per year. Lower level pros can expect to make $10,000 per season. Many professionals also sign sponsorship deals with large companies.
Q: Who pays the prize money and travel expenses?
A: Typically, the individual games that is hosting a professional competition. Most pros receive full airfare, accommodations and a meal allowance. It is also up to the games to pay prize money. Hosting a high end, professional competition can range in costs up to $40,000.
Q: How many competitions do pros usually attend?
A: The international highland games season usually runs from early May to early October, in locations around the World. Many elite level pros will compete in 30 to 40 competitions per year. Competitions are typically held on successive weekends, making for no shortage of travel for the international professional athlete.
Q: Where are professional competitions held?
A: The United States, Canada and Scotland are home to the majority of games on the international circuit.
Q: How are pros selected for competitions?
A: Most large competitions (including the North American, World, Canadian, Scottish, and US championships) use a ranking system. Other, smaller, pro competitions use an application system. Pro athletes submit a request to compete to the heavy events athletic director. If the athlete is suitable for the competition, an invite is extended.