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Opening Doors in The Highlands

Reprinted from SNS July 2018

A team of para-athletes is heading to Scotland to introduce adaptive athletics to the Highland Games

A traditional Scottish sporting event where athletes are required to throw large, heavy objects such as massive rocks and giant logs might not seem like the first place you’d find a competitor with a mobility impairment. But Alexander Armor aims to change that. 

Like every other competitor at the Highland Games, Armor wears a kilt, tosses the caber, lifts heavy stones and throws the hammer. He even plays bagpipes. There’s just one difference — he does it all from his wheelchair. An Army veteran, Armor has multiple sclerosis and a service-related L4/5 spinal-cord injury. 

Nicknamed “The Tank,” Armor has competed professionally in national and international Highland Games since 2016. For the last two years, he’s been the Highland Games’ No. 1 para chair competitor 
in North America.

New Avenues


Now, the 32-year-old Johnson City, Tenn., resident has made it his mission to bring adaptive heavy athletics across the pond to the home of the Games in Scotland. He started a nonprofit and assembled a group called Uncle Sam’s Highlanders with seven other adaptive and able-bodied Highland Games competitors to showcase the power of sports at the Royal British Legion Scotland’s (RBLS) Mey Cultural & Highland Games Aug. 4 at John O’Groats showfield in Caithness, a county in far north Scotland. 

Armor has wanted to compete in Scotland for years, and he hopes more Games in Scotland and the U.S. will open to adaptive athletes after this event. This is the first time adaptive athletes have been invited to compete in Scotland, as well as the first time U.S. athletes have been invited to compete in the Mey Games since their official accreditation by the Scottish Highland Games Association last year.

“The best way to change a sport, or to change the world of sports, is to go where that sport began and have them change,” Armor says. “And so, this is a huge step for Scotland and the U.K. [United Kingdom] to open avenues for people with disabilities, and I believe 
that will trickle down to the rest of the Highland Games here in the U.S. and around the world when they see that Scotland’s setting the example on a world stage, opening it up to adaptive athletes.”

As a bonus, the adaptive athletes will debut their talents in front of England’s Prince Charles, or the Duke of Rothesay as he’s known in Scotland. Prince Charles will perform duties as the Games’ chieftain, 
continuing the tradition started by his 
late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who attended the Games during her summer stays at the Castle of Mey.

Armor says the U.K.’s Invictus Games team and a charity called Help for Heroes have also climbed aboard to furnish teams, and Australia hopes to send a team as well.

“I just feel like, you know, the boulder that is adaptive Highland Games was sitting at the top of the hill and it just needed somebody to push it to get it started rolling,” Armor says. “So now, we’ve got all sorts of guys who are finding another avenue of being able to truly live and not just survive post-disability. The Highland Games community itself is a great community for veterans to get into because it shares a lot of that same brotherhood, that same tight-knit situation. You’ll be out there on the field side by side with someone you’re competing with, and they’ll be giving you coaching pointers, like, ‘Hey, man, you might get another couple feet if you try this.’ And it really is a community where everyone wants to be the champion, but they want to be the champion against someone who’s throwing at their best.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit unclesamshighlanders.org. For information on the Scottish Highland Games, visit shga.co.uk.

 

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Opening Doors in The Highlands

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