Seven feet tall, seven feet wide and arms the size of tree trunks. Monsters. That’s the way young R.J. Sutherland used to view the male athletes participating in Highland Games.
Now, he is one of them.
Caber-tossing, hammer-throwing, kilt-wearing Sutherland, 32, is the Hulk of Highland Games athletes. But by day, Sutherland is a medical imager and technologist in Fresno.
“I hear from a lot of the spinal doctors to be very cautious that I don’t hurt my back or end up having some kind of a surgery,” Sutherland said, “but they fully support it.”
Outside of work, Sutherland can be seen driving an older work truck carrying a caber (think stripped-down telephone pole) on top. Sutherland has a spiel prepared for those who stop and ask him what the “great long stick” is for: “I’m a Highland Games athlete.” “Yes, they used to air on ESPN.” “Yes, there are Scottish festivals throughout the state.”
Sutherland didn’t grow up participating in Highland sports nor did he have a background in track and field. He was a baseball pitcher in high school, the closest he came to throwing an object at a distance.
He joined the sport in 2010, coached himself up and relied on the advice of other Highland Games athletes to improve his hammer and stone throws. Soon, he would shock those watching at how easily he was able to pick up on the skills needed to toss the various weights.
Now, he has hired a coach. Now in the “A Class,” the top division before advancing to pro, Sutherland has become even more serious. If he can hit the right distance marks, which he has been, he can be invited by the Highland Games judges to the pro level.
I think there are a lot of talented people, a lot of strong people who would really enjoy the sport, if not to be competitive in it, just to even come out and do it. There are a lot of friendships that are made here in the games that last a lifetime.
R.J. Sutherland of Fresno
But being a Highland Games athlete is more than just going pro for Sutherland. His actual goal is to get more people to come out and participate in the games or, if not that, then at least grow awareness for the sport.
“I think there are a lot of talented people, a lot of strong people who would really enjoy the sport, if not to be competitive in it, just to even come out and do it,” Sutherland said. “There are a lot of friendships that are made here in the games that last a lifetime.”
If he can’t convince you to join with that pitch, he will be sure to tell you about meeting Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane from “Game of Thrones.”
“What I love about this sport is it has so many ties to a lot of figures in the fitness industry that in any other arena would be hard to get next to. I met ‘The Mountain’ from ‘Game of Thrones’ in Pleasanton last year because one of the athletes knows him personally. He was invited out because it was the 150th games,” Sutherland said. “I don’t know that I would’ve ever been able to meet him if I wasn’t doing this sport.”