Brawny Scotland: American athletes make history in Highland Games

An athlete living in an area that was so heavily influenced by settlers from the Scottish Highlands hopes to teach the Scots a thing or two about inclusion, and perhaps beat them at their own game.

Johnson City resident Alex Armor, an adaptive athlete who competes in both Highland Games and strongman competitions, will take a mixed team of Americans to the far north village of John o’ Groats this August to take part in the Mey Highland and Cultural Games, becoming the first Americans to compete in these games’ history and the first adaptive athletes to compete in the entire country.

Armor, who this year took the title of America’s Strongest Athlete with Disability and will compete in September for the world title, said taking part in a sanctioned Highland Games event in Scotland was a bucket-list wish.

“I’d say the goal for 95 percent of U.S. athletes is to go back and compete in the motherland for the sport,” he said. “It’s definitely a personal challenge as an athlete to go back to the homeland and see how you do.”

He and the rest of the Uncle Sam’s Highlanders team got the opportunity to take part in the games after Armor contacted the Scottish Highland Games Association to see if he could compete.

Armor said a representative from the official sanctioning body first said no adaptive athletes had ever competed, then asked if he could put together an adaptive team, then asked him to bring along some traditional American athletes, too.

Because of the American team’s involvement, the association also accepted teams of adaptive athletes from Australia and the UK and invited French athletes, turning a young Highland Games event that usually saw between 20 and 30 competitors into an international exhibition.

Armor said adaptive athletes have been competing in Highland Games stateside for several years, and now it’s time to expand those opportunities to other countries.

“The U.S. has been more progressive in disability and adaptive sport. We tend to take what the Brits give us and send it back even better,” Armor said, joking that the comment might get him into a spot of trouble. “We’re going to introduce their sport back to them even better, and we’re going to give them a heck of a show.”

His Royal Highness Prince Charles is Chieftain of the Mey Games, and Armor is excited by the chance to prove the might of adaptive athletes to members of the royal family.

In addition to Armor, Uncle Sam’s Highlanders is comprised of Joe White, a single-leg amputee from Arizona; Matthew Hall, a double-leg amputee from Virginia; Ryan Stewart, from Utah; traditional athlete Amanda Ford from North Carolina; and women’s lightweight amateur athlete Jarvina Routt. An athlete from the veterans’ group Warrior 360 will also make the trip.

While in Scotland, Armor will also test his mettle in a manhood stone lifting challenge, a strongman competition that has its roots in European tribes’ rights of passage.

The competitions usually involve lifting hundreds of pounds of weight and holding it for an amount of time or carrying it a certain distance.

Armor said it’s another challenge not many adaptive athletes take part in, but he’s hoping to prove a formidable lifter.

To make the trip, Armor is seeking charitable contributions for Uncle Sam’s Highlanders, an approved nonprofit organization.

To make a donation, or for more information, visit https://unclesamshighlanders.org.