Greg Pilling has a simple way of describing his favorite hobby.
“I put on a kilt and throw heavy things,” he said.
Pilling will soon be competing in the Scottish Highland Games, as part of the Arnold Sports Festival taking place March 3-6 in Columbus, Ohio. The games were founded by actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who first rose to prominence as a bodybuilder.
Pilling, a resident of Carmel for eight years, said the Highland Games have up to nine events, depending on location. Because the Arnold Festival is indoors, Pilling said organizers have cut events where competitors throw things away due to limited space.
This year there will be five events, some of which, according to Pilling, are similar to track and field throwing events.
“Stone throwing is like shot put,” said Pilling, who competes in the lightweight division. “We throw a 42-pound weight with one hand. It is a technique similar to the disc, but, of course, the weight is significantly heavier.
That same 42-pound weight is thrown over a barbell for height.
The caber toss is the defining event, Pilling said.
“It’s a log that you flip over, and the goal is to land it aligned in the direction you’re moving,” he said. “Caber is Gaelic for ‘tree’.”
The final event is the sheaf toss, where a pitchfork is used to toss a burlap sack with 20 pounds of string over a bar.
“It comes from a sheaf of hay or straw that farmers would use with a pitchfork,” said Pilling, a 38-year-old mortgage banker with Teachers Credit Union.
The lightweight division is reserved for competitors under 200 pounds. The 5-foot-11 Pilling said he weighs around 205 pounds and usually loses a bit of weight before competitions.
Pilling’s favorite event is throwing a 28-pound shot put for the distance, which won’t be part of the festival due to indoor constraints.
“My best for that is 69-foot-10,” said Pilling, who started helping pitchers this year at Jesuit Preparatory School in Brebeuf. “It’s the most comparable to discus throwing.”
Besides weightlifting, Pilling said he prepares by throwing outside.
“It makes it difficult when there’s snow on the ground,” Pilling said. “I don’t necessarily throw the sheaf in a bar. I can go out in my cul de sac and throw it high. I can work on the technique without worrying about measuring how far it goes.
Pilling said the caber toss is a technical event, and because he’s been doing it for 10 years, he has a good feel for it.
Pilling threw the discus and hammer for Central Michigan University, completing his eligibility in 2010. He set the school record in the discus with a throw of 197 feet 2 inches. Pilling, who grew up in Canada, placed eighth at the NCAA track and field championships in 2009.
“The way things are going, it looks like I’m still going to have this (record),” he said.
Central Michigan cut men’s athletics in May 2020 to save money after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After graduating, Pilling moved to Saline, Michigan, which held a Celtic festival featuring Highland Games. He and his brother, John, took part in the Celtic Festival for the first time in 2012.
Pilling’s brother continues to compete as a professional while Pilling competes in the amateur division. John, who also pitched at Central Michigan, lives in Saginaw, Michigan.
Pilling, who has Scottish ancestry and whose great-grandmother was MacDonald, owns seven kilts, including the MacDonald tartan, which has a plaid pattern for members of the MacDonald, or Donald, Clan.
Pilling typically attends five Highland Games per summer. His wife, Elizabeth, and three children, Daniel, 13, Andrew, 10, and Sarah, 6, sometimes come to the events.
“They show up for a few hours and cheer me on, but then it gets a little old,” Pilling said.
Pilling often trains with fellow Carmel resident Chris Snodgrass, who competes in the open division. However, Snodgrass has a conflict and will not be able to compete in Arnold’s Festival.
The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Snodgrass competes in six to eight Highland Games a year. His wife, Jessica, has competed in the past but has retired from competition.
“Greg is a terrific competitor,” Snodgrass said. “He has phenomenal throwing experience. He’s a really good friend on the pitch. He’s not in my class, but I know he and the other guys in his division get pretty intense. He trains very well. »
Pilling placed third in the lightweight division of the 2020 National Championship, the only time he has competed in this competition.