Frank Buckley will be among several Ormond Beach competitors in the Highland Games, April 20, at the Celtic Fest.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
Frank Buckley throws trees, but he calls them cabers. He wears a skirt, but he calls it a kilt. And if you know what's good for you, you will, too.
Buckley will be among the athletes competing in the local Highland Games April 20, in Rockefeller Gardens, during the Celtic Fest. The Ormond Beach native and Seabreeze alum competes in the A Division, just two divisions below the professional level, and was first introduced to the sport behind a church.
The Highland Games date back hundreds of years and include events like the caber toss, sheaf toss and hammer toss.
The caber toss might be the most well-known of the events, involving a competitor flipping a telephone pole-sized log end over end. There’s also the sheaf toss, where a bag, typically weighing 16 pounds, is thrown in the air with a pitch fork. Highest toss wins.
In 2006, while attending Seabreeze before the beginning of his senior football season, Buckley got what he thought was a stinger, a regular old pinched nerve. But instead of the sensation being limited to his arm, like a normal stinger, it spanned the left side of his body.
He took a break, thinking it would subside and he could return to practice, good as new. However, when he did rejoin the action, he said a routine hit — simply pushing off — caused his left side to go numb.
Two discs in his neck herniated into his spinal cord, coming close to a complete break.
“They called it a break," Buckley said. "I called it a crack. ... It didn’t paralyze me. There was a worry that it would, but it basically caused me to stop playing football.”
Surgery, Buckley said, could have made the injury worse, so he opted for physical rehabilitation, getting help from the chiropractors in his family.
He was angry, frustrated he couldn’t play the sport he loved — one he planned on playing for years to come. So he pushed his own physical limits. He admitted he didn’t take the injury very seriously. He started lifting weights and got into mixed martial arts training.
Then, Charlie Strickhouser, a friend, invited him to try Scottish Highland Games.
“He takes me out to his church, where they used to practice, and they had all these weights back there,” Buckley said. “And they had me start throwing them.”
Soon, Buckley was in his first competition. But picking up, swinging and chucking a 56-pound weight was a daunting task, even for the former defensive end.
Still, he stuck with it. It was the combination of history, camaraderie and competition in the sport that made him get serious. Now, he enters into 10 competitions per year.
“For me, it’s just about the fun,” he said. “If I make it higher, because I get better, that’s awesome, and I’m really happy about it. But just going out there and having fun, that definitely is what it’s all about.”
Fun, for Buckley, is taking a Braemar Stone, about 28 pounds, and throwing it like a shot put, more than 51 feet. Or hurling a sheaf 28 feet into the air — now that's he calls having a ball.
Ormond Beach's third-annual Celtic Fest is April 19-21, at Rockefeller Gardens, with nonstop music, food and Highland Games. Daily passes are $5.