Every year since 2014 the “Summer Raid Weekend” has evolved in some way. In the beginning, it was simply a strongman competition, however it was the first such event ever held at Viking Performance Training. Now home to nearly 100 athletes over two days, the Raid began with about 17 competitors, and even that may be generous! In addition to growing larger, the format changed over time as well. The resurgence of powerlifting in WV lead to the inclusion of a full powerlifting meet on day 1 (officially sanctioned and all that jazz), and the strongman shenanigans continued on day 2. A few years ago after we had been looking for a way to incorporate the “Highlander” concept into our event calendar, Jerry and I decided to make the strongman portion of the Summer Raid into a mixture of Highland Games and strongman. The “Viking Highlander” was born!
Those that have traveled this journey with me for any length of time know that I love to try different ideas as a promoter. Some of these harebrained schemes turn out quite well, and others… well let’s just say you have to cast a few lines to catch a fish. Ideas like a legitimate team championship where your whole crew works together have become more popular than I could have imagined, while ideas like an “all combat event” strongman show bombed so badly that I still have nightmares about the deep feelings of failure from it. Considering that a handful or so of years back an entire organization based on the Highlander concept flopped and went out of business faster than a Wendy’s that only sells salads, we were a bit nervous as to whether anyone would come to our Highlander event, and if we would have another disaster of wasted time and effort on our hands.
Well, Mark Valenti and our friends in Ohio had a very successful Highlander show in the summer of 2016, so we knew it was possible for such a competition to thrive. All we had to do was get people to show up, and we knew we could show them a great time. Therein lied the challenge; would anyone show up with us being in WV? Our state’s only Highland Games had died off, and that was a scary prospect – do people just not like the Celtic events here? We were determined to find out one way or the other, so we took the plunge and launched the Viking Highlander in 2017.
Initially, the athletes started coming in from other states. VA, OH, TN, etc. all started popping up. WV had but one or two. Had we blown it? Had we ruined what we had going with the Summer Raid prior to making the switch to the Highlander format? Was the gamble a big fat bust? Then… WV showed up again. And again. And every time another state like PA, NC, or MD would pop up, WV would pop up to match them . Before we knew it the roster had swelled to one of the biggest in Viking history (which is saying something because we do a ton of events there), and my inbox was blowing up daily with questions about Braemar stones, weight over bar throws, and where to get a decent kilt.
2018 arrived and cemented the fact that this “Highlander” thing was no fad or flash in the pan – the roster was even bigger, and people were coming from as far as South Dakota to throw down at the show. We set an American record that year for the largest Mas Wrestling tournament ever held on US soil with 54 participants. Mas has now become a staple of the weekend, with it acting as the final event of the Highlander as well as its own stand alone tournament. Adaptive divisions were instituted in 2017, and continued onward as well.
2019 marked another evolution for the Summer Raid Weekend and the Viking Highlander in particular. We had decided to discontinue our Platinum Plus contest (despite it being rather successful), which was home to the Max Block Press for world records. Abandoning the Plat Plus meant we had to find a new home for the Max Block event (because it just wouldn’t be right not offer max block here when some jerk who made that block thingy-ma-jig lives here…). I’m sure you see where this is going; the Viking Highlander became host to the Max Mouser Block Press event that was formerly the signature event at our Plat Plus show.
Not being one to leave well enough alone, I also shook up the event list by tossing the Caber in (see what I did there?) as well as a dumbbell event based on the Thomas Inch Dumbbell. Were there too many changes? Had we strayed too far from what brought everyone to the dance in 2017 and 2018? Would the Max Block intimidate folks away from the show who weren’t world class pressers? Would abandoning the Plat Plus format mean that the heavy hitters wouldn’t come out to contest the block records? Can you tell that I lose sleep over this stuff yet???
The competition was announced, and registration opened. One by one they started coming in from all walks of the strength life – the Highland Games folks, the grip lovers, the strongman fanatics, the powerlifters who wanted both days of action. Rookies, veterans, men, women, strong people, and straight up freak-strong people were all on board. People were digging it! The risks had paid off… all we had to do now was deliver on our promises of a fun weekend of straining, struggling, and triumphing over heavy objects. I’d like to think we did indeed deliver on such promises.
Thank you to Jerry, Calvin, Jon, Tom, and the rest of the Viking crew for busting some ass to make sure this ran smoothly. Also thanks to folks like Joseph Bartolo, John Berry, Katie O’Connor, Jacob Bobbs, Kimmie Hinerman, Tonya Mahoney, and probably some others I am forgetting in my old age that stepped up to help out – your efforts allowed a whole lot of your iron brothers and sisters to have a helluva weekend.
Thank you to Apex Counseling for believing in what we do and putting up cold hard cash for the event so that we can offer high quality t-shirts and incredible awards without going broke. The athletes appreciate it when they look at those custom awards in their trophy cases and wear those comfy tees!
Thank you to Ryan Putzulu, Jeremy Futrell, and Chad Clark for your help on the Highland Games side of the day’s events. I am admittedly no expert on Scottish heavy events collectively, so being able to lean on you guys a bit helped me quite a bit.
Thanks to the athletes who signed up for this madness, and God bless the 10 or 12 of you that competed on both days. You are some rough, tough, bad mamajamas in my book.
Thank you to everyone who watched the show either live or on the stream. I’m humbled that yall think enough of our event to spend your Saturday watching it.
What does the future hold for the Viking Highlander and the Summer Raid Weekend? What will the next evolution be? I don’t have the answers for you right now, but one thing is for sure – just like this recap, it will probably be just a little bit different.