Introducing Taylor Kroll: Highland Games athlete, student, and all around awesome person!

Last month, at the Sparta Celtic Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor Kroll. She’s a 17-year-old college student and Highland Games athlete. She’s also an incredibly nice person and a great sport because she agreed to answer some questions for us.

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I’m happy to see that more women are getting involved in the Highland Games, which have traditionally been a male sport. And I’m especially pleased to see younger women training and competing, but at seventeen, you’re definitely the youngest I’ve come across. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the sport? 

Becoming involved with this sport is a bit of weird story.  I never knew what the highland games were until three years ago when I started.  I actually meet one of the guys I throw with at a middle school track meet I was volunteering.  He started talking to my mom and she told him I need help with my shot put and discus.  So, the next weekend I went to his practice field and did not see them throwing shot put or discus. Him and two other guys were throwing caber and I had no idea what was going on.  Originally, I no intention of throwing highland games, but after a few practices, I started to practicing highland events with them and began to love the sport.

You’re regularly flinging around heavy weights and….well…trees. What drew you to that? 

Honestly, when I first started at 15, what drew me to it the most was my overall ranking.  After my first highland games I was ranked 25th and it completely blew my mind.  That sense of accomplishment kept me practicing and aspiring to become the best thrower I could be.  As I continued into the following years, the atmosphere during competition, the other throwers, and becoming a better highland athlete made me love the Highland games even more.

Do you have a favorite event? If so, which one and why? 

My favorite event is probably weight for distance- which is weird because if you would have asked me what my least favorite event was last year, i would have said weight for distance.  It is my favorite because it requires so much technique and while so many people have different ways to throw it, it comes back to the same basic technique.

Do you feel any additional pressure as a woman competing in what’s traditionally considered a men’s sport? 

I do not really feel any pressure.  It is honestly more frustrating to see games that do not offer women’s divisions, in particular, masters women.  These women are amazing athletes and deserve to be able to compete in the right division. 

Do you participate in any other sports? 

I am on the Ashland University Track and Field team

We’ve featured one Highland athlete who writes poetry. Do you have any other hobbies? 

Besides doing homework and throwing my hobbies are reading and biking.

Overall, most Highland athletes seem quite supportive of one another. Has that been your experience? If so, what’s the best advice you’ve received? 

Highland athletes are some of my favorite people because of this reason.  No matter what, everyone is willing to help.  I could be neck and neck with another athlete and she would still point out if I needed to correct something in my form.
Some of the best advice I have received from highland athletes does not even usually pertain to highland games.  Being as young as I was when I started (and as young as I am now), they have really helped mold me into the person I am today and I am so thankful for everything they have taught me.
Do you have plans for future competitions? 

My plans for future competitions is to do more.  I usually stick around Michigan and Ohio, but I want to expand my horizons. 

Any other big plans coming up? 

No big plans coming up.  Focusing on college right now.

Do you have any favorite inspirational (or otherwise) quote(s) you’d like to share?

“Dreams don’t work unless you do.”  I like this quote because it helps remind me it will not happen over night, I have to work for what I want. Another quote I really like is, “Never set a goal based on the measure of single success.  Always progress from the average, that is what you are trying to improve.”  Comparing myself to others is something I really struggle with, but this quote helps me focus on the importance of bettering myself , while not making a reference to things that are just going to make me more frustrated. It is okay to have big goals, but everyone has to start at square one.

Thanks so much for joining us, Taylor! All of us here at the Michigan Highlanders are wishing the best of luck with your studies, track and field events, and, of course, the Highland Games! 

The Highland Games…in Japan?!

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Highland Games competitor, Aaron Ramey, has done something stellar–he organized and competed in the Highland Games… in Japan! And even better, he’s agreed to answer all our nosy questions.

So tell us, what motivated you to bring the Games to Okinawa, Japan?

The motivation to bring the Games to Okinawa was a bit selfish.  I had been training alone and traveling internationally to compete so asked if we could do on here.  That motivation changed as interest grew and people were having more and more fun training.

Who participated? 

The event was a mixture of military members from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Department of Defense Civilians and visitors from off-island like Julian Vandervelde, Kengo Kubota, and Shuichi Sato.

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How did you become interested in participating in the Highland Games?

Regular strength training for the sake of strength training was beginning to get stale.  After my readings in strength training progressed from Rippetoe to Pavel, I ended up on Dan John where my interest in training for Shot Put and Discus led to the Highland Games.

How long have you been participating?

I am currently in my third year of competing.

What’s your favorite event, and why?

The Weight Over Bar.  It teaches me to wait.  After using some of the techniques provided by the Pockowski’s in the Contrarian Approach to the Highland Game, my throws become much smoother and less of a struggle.

What’s your least favorite event, and why?

Sheaf.  It is hard to train the Sheaf in Japan and I always have to bum a fork from other people because of my reluctance to bring the fork on an international flight.

Do you have a games-related goal you’re striving for? If so, what is it?

I have one primary goal and that is to meet as many of the great people that are in the Games as I can.  I tend to be hesitant in meeting new people and the Games help break those barriers.  In relation to throwing goals, I only hope that I can be competitive in the A Class.

What’s your best games-related memory?

I am stuck between two.

17 March 2017, I went out to the field for the 1st Annual Torii Station Highland Games to ensure all the footboards were in place, paint was down, and all the implements were in working order.  Some of the competitors were out throwing around the implements with Julian Vandervelde.  Looking around it really hit me that the Games were in Okinawa, Japan.  That feeling progressed as I had to literally shoo competitors off the field so we could all get some dinner.

The second memory was on the evening of the Torii Station Games when everyone had departed, the lights were off, and we were enjoying the night with a couple of beers on the porch of the cabins looking over the beach and the competitor’s field .  The top female competitor of the day, Lauryn Burleson, walked away with some of her fellow Military Police (MP) while Julian Vandervelde and myself relaxed and exchanged stories.  After about 5 minutes, we both heard a distinctive “thud” followed by a celebratory “Woooooooo!!!”  We both looked at each other and wondered if we heard what we thought we heard.  Low and behold, after some investigation we found Lauryn and the MPs were out turning cabers in the dark.  Nothing like turning cabers in the middle of the night and while on break from a patrol.

Do you plan to compete this year? If so, where?

Yes.  After having completed the event in Torii, I have plans to be back in the States for training from April till the beginning of June and hope to attend the Tennessee Smoky Mountain Games, Alma Highland Games in Michigan, and any other Games I can participate in within an acceptable radius.

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Assuming you’re not a professional athlete, what do you do when you’re not training?

When I am not training I am spending time with my wife and dog, working, and trying to get in a couple good books on history.  My current profession is a Security Specialist with the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa, Japan.

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What are the three things in your life you’re the proudest of?

Marrying my wife, Shoko Tsukuyama.  She tolerates my hobbies and adventures and supports everything that comes along with it.

Working with the U.S. Army Torii Station Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) team here in Japan to put together their first Highland Games.  While it is our first Games, the advice I received from Jerry Bowersox and Mark McVey helped smooth out a rocky first time and provides a solid baseline for future Games.

Winning first at 215 in the 1999 Indiana High School Wrestling State Championships.  It was a cumulation of support, training, and guidance from a wide range of people in my life.

Thanks so much for sharing, Aaron! We’re looking forward to hearing about the 2018 Torii Games – be sure to take lots of pictures! 

Meet Ken Green – Highland Athlete, Photographer, and Poet

Today, we’ve got something special on the Michigan Highlanders news page! Author, photographer, and Highland Games athlete, Ken Green, is here to tell us about his latest project–a book of poetry that combines his love of the written word and his eye for visual composition.

Huge congratulations are in order–his book, Inside of Me, released on March 4th of this year.

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This book features both your poems and photography. How long have you been writing?

I started writing about 4 or 5 years ago. I was working through a tough time in my life. A good friend of mine read some of my first works and encouraged me to keep writing. The more I wrote, the better I felt. Then, one day, it was just over. It seemed I had nothing more to say. The words stopped coming.

Some time later, that same friend told me what I had written was great and I needed to share it by putting them in a book. So I did. But then, I decided to do something different and shoot pictures that reminded me of each piece of work. That was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But the end result was exactly what I was trying to achieve.

And how long have you been interested in photography?

As far as photography, I was a graphics arts major in school. Shooting pictures has always been a fun hobby. Now as far as the writing, that was a surprise. If someone had told me 10 years ago I would write a book of poetry, I would have laughed out loud.

What’s your favorite poem in the book? 

As far as my favorite poem in the book, I would have to say it would be the poem, “Wisdom”. It’s kind of my story, in a way.

How long have you been involved in the Highland Games?

As far as the other side of my life–the Highland games. I have been doing games for 19 years. I’m getting kind of beat up. The typical shoulder problems that come with this sport. Some days are better than others. But I can’t see myself not doing games and spending time with my Highland family. Highland athletes are some of the best people you would ever want to meet. As real as they come.

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Being a Highland Games athlete is more of who I am, more than what I do. My family came over from Scotland around 1904. MacDonald of Clanranald.

What’s next for you–more poetry?

I’m not sure if I will ever write any more. But I have been thinking about a book of photos of some of the great places and sites of this great state of ours. I love the outdoors. And traveling as much as I can. I have been to Scotland twice. Both for Highland World Master’s Championships. What an amazing experience.

Care to share a little more about yourself?

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I am the superintendent of a 65-acre cemetery in Lansing. The company I work for owns parks all over the country. I have been working there for 37 years. I was going to school to be an architect but got married and had my amazing daughter, Lauren. So school got put on hold. But I have no regrets at all. I have a great daughter and great friends and family, so I am a lucky man. I lead a simple life. My daughter, my work and my Highland Games. A dram of good scotch and a cigar is always a nice break once in awhile.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book? 

I really do hope people like what I have done with this book and hopefully understand what it’s saying.

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If you’d like to check out Ken’s poetry and photography, you can pick up your very own copy of his book. Just click on the link below! 

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And if you’d like to have Ken sign it, just bring it with you to the Alma Highland Festival, Gaylord Highland Games, Saline Celtic Festival, Sparta Celtic Festival, or The Michigan Renaissance Festival. He’ll also have copies of his books available for purchase at each venue.