Highland games draws record crowd
The number of Scots in Alaska is on the rise.
For the second straight year, a record crowd filled Lions Park in Eagle River for the 32nd Annual Alaska Scottish Highland Games.
Last year’s record of 8,000 was topped by about 2,000 on Saturday, June 29, event chair Chris Anderson said.
“It’s a record,” she said.
A record-high 54 vendors were also on hand.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Anderson said.
Competing against familiar foes in the field events is what brings Eagle River’s Darline McLaughlin back year after year.
“Even though you only see them once a year, they’re family,” she said.
The supportive fans make the grueling hours on the field worth it, McLaughlin said.
“The crowd is amazing,” she said.
Hosting a large event in Eagle River is another bonus, McLaughlin said.
“It’s nice to have something close by,” she said.
McLaughlin and her daughter, Jenny, have deep roots in the Highland Games. McLaughlin’s father, John Thomson, competed in the first 31 Games, but he had to sit out this year due to illness.
Jenny McLaughlin, 23, has been coming to the Games since she was in diapers.
“I grew up in it,” she said.
A 2007 Chugiak High graduate, Jenny McLaughlin started competing at age 16. Making friends with her fellow competitors is one of the event’s best aspects, she said.
“It’s nice meeting new people,” Jenny McLaughlin said.
With cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s, conditions couldn’t have been better for athletes, Jenny McLaughlin said.
“It’s not too hot, it’s not raining,” she said.
While she strives for personal records in each event, Jenny McLaughlin said her main focus is enjoying the competition with a great group of women.
“All of us are far from the best worldwide,” she said. “We just do it because we’re Scottish and it’s fun.”
They same goes for the pros.
“We’re all good friends,” said Ryan Stewart, one of seven professionals who competed Saturday. “We’re cheering for each other.”
In his first competition in Alaska, Stewart, of Draper, Utah, won five individual events and claimed the overall title. He also nearly set a record in the weight for height event, coming up just shy of clearing 16 feet, 8 inches.
Professional Greg Bell, of Seattle, said the relationships made at the Games is what brought him back to Eagle River for a fifth year.
“You meet fantastic people here,” he said.
With world-class fishing to complement a fantastic Alaska Scottish Highland Games, Bell said he extends his stay in the Last Frontier as long as he can.
“I want to spend as much time here as possible,” he said.
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected].