MAXVILLE — The tossing of the caber, the hammer throw and all of those other Scottish heavy events are coming up soon.
Very soon, for Lancaster’s Lee MacKinnon.
The long-time competitor at the Glengarry Highland Games each mid-summer has also been a regular on the world stage, and in 2022 the event comes early, June 17-19 in New Brunswick.
MacKinnon, 59, will compete for the seventh time, at the Masters World Championships, this year part of the Greater Moncton Highland Games and Scottish Festival.
“This is the earliest in the year I’ve ever been,” said MacKinnon, who’s attended previous events in some places that would be considered a bit more exotic than Moncton, including Hafnarfjörður in Iceland, twice in Inverness, Scotland, Stuttgart, Germany, and, well, not-quite glamorous Buffalo, N.Y.
MacKinnon first qualified for the worlds in 2009, and the last time he attended was quite a while ago, in November of 2019, at an event held in Tucson, Ariz.
You only need one guess as to why it’s been so long between competitions, the 2020 masters in Ireland being cancelled, the 2021 games in Moncton postponed a year. With no Highland Games events to attend in Maxville the last two years – or anywhere in Canada for that matter – MacKinnon, like so many of his fellow competitors, is on the comeback trail.
And that trail started at the recently-shuttered Physical Limits gym in Cornwall, where MacKinnon this past winter hit the weights and cardio rooms most mornings.
“Those workouts in the gym will help,” MacKinnon said, looking ahead to the test of strength and technique in Atlantic Canada that’s now just a couple of weeks away.
When conditions allowed for outdoor training in early May, MacKinnon, a retired school teacher, began his throwing all over the place, including with some local competitors, and at his dad’s farm north of Alexandria, and in Maxville on the infield at the home of what will be the 73rd Glengarry Highland Games, July 29-30.
“All I need is 100 feet of cut grass – nothing I throw is going to go any further than that,” MacKinnon said with a smile.
Twice a week, somewhere in Glengarry, he sets up his wooden trig, and does several dozen throws, for about two hours. One day he sticks to four of the heavy events, the other day MacKinnon focuses on the other four.
He’s a big, strong guy at 230 pounds, but that’s considered undersized in this sport, where some of his competitors weigh as much as 290 pounds – or more. So in a competition where technique is a big part of success, technique is critical for MacKinnon.
“It’s not just about brute strength,” he said. “I have to have the technique down pat.”
His roots in strength sports go back to the late-1980s, and what would be 10 years of powerlifting competitions that included a Canadian bronze medal win in 1994. In 1997, he switched over to Scottish heavy events, which was about the same time that amateurs could compete with the pros at Highland Games meets, and MacKinnon vividly remembers his first competition being in Haliburton, Ont.
MacKinnon enjoyed it, and had success as an amateur, in 2000 in Maxville breaking the sheaf toss world record of 27 feet with a heave that soared 32 feet.
He’d often compete in a dozen games across North America each year, and when he becoming a dad in 1999, MacKinnon decided to turn pro and slow down a bit on all the travel. That was the plan at least, but that first year he still attended 10 different competitions – “but at least I was bringing home a paycheque,” MacKinnon said.
When MacKinnon turned 40, the master class was being developed, and he’d turn his attention to that category, and ultimately become a world traveller in it. His best result at the worlds came in Buffalo, when he finished fifth out of 10 athletes in his age category.
“I’d love to be on the podium (with a top-three result),” MacKinnon said, but he knows that’ll be a tall order in Moncton, being 59 and in the 55-60 age class.
But MacKinnon plans on staying in the game as long as he can, and has designs on qualifying for the 2023 worlds in the Netherlands, when he’ll be 60.
“I’d like to get to 10 (worlds) – if I can stay (physically) intact,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I guess that eventually it’s not who can throw the farthest, it’s who’s left to throw.”