KERNSTOWN — John Jans was gunning for a world record.
The Highland Games athlete had just recently aged up to the senior master’s category — for competitors 60 years and older — and was hoping that, even in muddy conditions, he could beat the previous world record in an event or two.
“I’m the youngest senior master, so I should be able to set a few records while I’m young,” Jans said.
Jans, who traveled to the event from Canada, initially tried beating the record in the weight for height event, where competitors try to throw a weight over a bar; if they clear the bar, they try again at a greater height. But the ground below the bar was muddy, which Jans said made it difficult to throw the weight high; he fell just short of the record.
But in the hammer throw, where competitors wind a “hammer” (or a long pipe with a metal weight at the end), Jans had boots he could use that have a blade at the toe, allowing him to dig his feet into the ground. In that event, Jans eclipsed the senior masters’ record.
Jans was one of 26 people competing at the “backyard” Highland Games at the Kernstown Battlefield on Saturday.
B.J. Ketchem and Rob Monroe launched the event five years ago as a way to raise money for the Movember Foundation, which deals with men’s health issues.
Ketchem said that his dad had cancer and that some of Monroe’s friends had cancer.
“We did this game really as a way to honor these men and their families for everything that they’ve gone through and also to generate funds,” Ketchem said.
From the outside, the allure of the Highland Games is the feats its athletes pull off, throwing heavy objects as far or as high as they can.
But as the athletes at the Kernstown event told it, the community is as much a part of the allure as the events themselves are.
Throughout the event, Ketchem heckled one of the competitors, David Marble, of Cumberland, whom Ketchem used to compete with before he retired, while also suggesting technical tweaks he thought could improve Marble’s performance.
That kind of attitude isn’t uncommon, Marble said.
“It’s one of the few sports where it’s competitive but at the same time, people are trying to help each other out,” he said.
Jennifer Marych, who lives in Vienna and competed in the event, agrees.
“It’s the only sport where you throw and the person beside you is giving you tips to help you throw farther, even though that’s the person you’re competing against,” Marych said. “You know, you cheer for your competitors because they’re your friends and your family.”