Viking Highlander 2019 Recap

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.