Jeremiah Strand is a Highland athlete from Mount Vernon, Washington. He is the first professional highland athlete from the state of Washington. Following the competition at the 2004 Pacific Northwest Highland Games, he graciously agreed to sit down and talk with this interviewer.
Highland Games: To begin with, perhaps you could tell us a little about how and why you became involved with the Scottish Highland athletic games?
Jeremiah Strand: I started competing in 1999 in the Novice class in Mount Vernon, Washington at the Highland Games there. I watched them for about three years in a row and really wanted to do it, but just never could get the time off work to try it. I did track and field in high school - threw the shot put and discus - and really enjoyed that, so I went out and tried the Highland games for the first time and picked it up really well.
In the Novice class, I won 7 first places out of 8 events. I picked it up from there and started training and the next year I moved up to the Amateur class. I was training about 4 or 5 days a week then. As an Amateur, by 2003 I was ranked number 1 in North America where they have a ranking system. Then I decided to turn professional. After I turned professional, I started training about 30 hours a week between weight lifting, throwing at events, doing flexibility exercises, strength exercises and things like that.
Highland Games: You mentioned you had an athletic background as a high school athlete. Could you tell us a bit more about that and any other athletic experience, say in college, or after you graduated from high school?
Jeremiah Strand: When I was in the seventh grade, I actually broke my leg playing baseball. It rotated my pelvis about 80 degrees forward and what it would do is it pinched a nerve in my hip flexor in back and that prevented me from playing football in high school. So for the first two years of high school, I didn't do a sport.
Then in my junior year, I started picking up track and field and enjoyed it a lot. I went to a pre-Olympic camp and was doing very well. My senior year in high school, I decided to wrestle. While wrestling I dislocated a rib on the left side of my body. It affected me through the whole track and field season as a senior, so that I didn't do as well as I would have liked. That - the injury in my rib cage - probably prevented me from doing college track and field.
About two years later I did fire fighting training. I decided that I was too competitive and I wanted to play sports so I picked this up and I've been at it ever since.
Highland Games: That was actually my next question. Would you say that you are a competitive person by nature and does Highland athletics serve the purpose of providing you with an outlet for your competitiveness?
Jeremiah Strand: Oh, it does. I've always been very competitive by nature. I don't get angry and competitive, though. It's more an inside kind of explosiveness that I need to let out. The nice thing about the Highland Games is the comaraderie between all the athletes. Everybody helps each other. You don't see that in many other sports - helping each other with the techniques. We're competitive with each other, but we're still great friends too.
Highland Games: How seriously do you take this activity? How much do you train for it and how do you train for it? Is it your life, or just part of your life?
Jeremiah Strand: Right now, I'd say it's about 80% of my life. I'm a personal trainer in the outside world. Someday I hope to get to the point where I can earn enough endorsements and sponsorships to do this full time. I'd be able to devote more time to training.
As of now, I work out probably 25 to 30 hours per week training for the games. I throw 3 or 4 times a week. I go through about 10 different phases in my work-out program over the off-season, including yoga classes, cardiovascular work, flexibility training, and then I'll start with heavy lifting and during the season I'll throw.
Highland Games: Most or all of these events here at the Highland Games seem to involve strength to a great extent. But surely there is also technique. So how important is technique and how important is strength?
Jeremiah Strand: Technique, to a point, will probably be about 75% of the throw. You have to be at a certain strength level in order to perform the technique correctly especially with the 22 lb hammer, for example. By spinning it around your head 4 times within about 3 seconds, you can generate up to 6700 pounds of force on the end. So you have to definitely be strong and powerful to hold onto the weight.
This is true as well for the 56 pound weight for distance, but strength isn't everything. There are a lot of powerlifters and bodybuilders who can move a tremendous amout of weight, but without the flexibility, balance, and coordination, they wouldn't excell at the Highland Games at all.
Highland Games: There's no Olympics for these Highland events. There's no money, no mega-bucks endorsements, no picture on the Wheaties box. So what's the payoff? What motivates you?
Jeremiah Strand: My motivation is to someday be able to get to that point, to be on the Wheaties box, to be known world-wide. The Ultimate Heavy Athletics were taped for ESPN in 1999 and 2000. But due to lack of sponsorship, they haven't taped again. But we do have a fan base of 30 million that does watch the sport. If we could somehow organize the athletes, that is what it will take to become better known worldwide.
Highland Games: When you compete, do you compete against the other athletes, or against yourself, or a combination of the two?
Jeremiah Strand: I do compete against other people, but for the most part, I compete against myself. It is actually the other athletes that will push me to throw for another couple of inches or another couple of feet. I don't necessarily want to beat any given athlete, but I do want to compete against my personal records and my main goal is to come out and see if I can make my personal records farther and farther each time.
Highland Games: Let's turn to the issue of doping in sport generally and here at Highland athletics. If you knew that one of your competitors was doping - taking performance enhancing drugs or steroids - how would you feel about that? Would you feel like he was cheating?
Jeremiah Strand: For the most part, what they do is their decision. The long term adverse health effects would turn most people away from it, but some people do it anyway. I wouldn't necessarily turn them in, but I would hope that they would be caught while they were doing it.
The larger competitions do drug tests. I wish they would do more. I think the more sponsors that come into the sport, the more money there will be for drug tests for any kind of performance enhancers.
Highland Games: Do you take supplements?
Jeremiah Strand: I take multi-vitamins. I take Creatine off and on, but nothing consistent. Most of the protein I get is actually from milk, chicken, and fish. I don't take any protein supplements. I'd say at least 90% of the athletes do take some sort of supplements. I have always tried to stay as natural as I can. My body responds to natural foods a lot better.
Highland Games: What do you think about the future of Highland Athletics?
Jeremiah Strand: We'll always be part of the Highland Games, but I think it has potential to be a lot more.If we can find a corporate sponsor like the World's Strongest Man competition has, for example. If we could find a corporate sponsor to just endorse and pay for certain meets, certain events. . . I think some of the heavy athletics could be the highlight of the Highland games.
There's a huge audience that we do have. It is just a lack of sponsorship and lack of money that is available to the public. Almost everybody knows what a caber toss is, but they don't know how it works or anything like that or who does it.
Highland Games: How long do you think you will stay with the sport?
Jerremiah Strand: I want to stay with the sport as long as I can. I have probably another 5 years until I hit my peak. Right now, I'm 25 years old. The majority of athletes hit their peaks at 30 to 35, all the way up to 37 to 40 is the strongest part of your life. As long as you can stay injury free. My main goal is to maintain a lot of flexibility witha lot of sport specific training and injury prevention training so as to have a longer career. Some great athletes from Scotland have thrown into their 50s and done extremely well.