Tag Archives: Thom Van Vleck

Highland Games Masters 2014

by Thom Van Vleck

Chad Ullom tossing the caber in Scotland!

Recently USAWA members Dave Glasgow, Chad Ullom, and Thom Van Vleck went to Inverness, Scotland to attend the Masters World Champs of Highland Games.  Unfortunately, Dean Ross was unable to attend.  Dean was the last person to have attended EVERY SINGLE MWC since it’s inception a dozen years ago.  Larry Traub was in attendance to watch and cheer us on.  Dave and Larry had brought their wives along….I was stuck rooming with Chad…..

The event was great fun and I’ve already talked about the Guinness caber toss record.  This was a three day event and it worked out where I could help Chad in the morning sessions when he threw and he could help me in the afternoon sessions.  I know for a fact Chad helped me out and I hope he found me helpful as well.  We would video each other throwing and assess mistakes and changes.

Chad Ullom between Wilbur Stam and Tommy DeBruijn....and Chad beat them both in the caber!

Chad was 4th in what I would call one of the toughest 40-44 age groups I’ve ever seen.  He had former champ Mike Dickens to deal with as well as 6’10” Tommy DeBruijn.  Chad did extremely well against a field of some 20 throwers.  His best event was the caber toss where he was one of only three in his group to turn the caber.  He was in a dead tie going into the third and final attempt and ended up 2nd by a fraction.  I have to say in my opinion I thought he won it….but they didn’t let me judge!  It was that close.

I was in the 50-54 age group and I was dealing with two of the all time Scottish greats….Mark McDonald and Allister Gunn.  Both former pros and it was no contest with 18 throwers in my group about who would be in the top two.  Allister pulled out a close victory and the rest of use were really contending for 3rd.  I was very pleased to have my 2nd best finish ever with a 5th.  However, what really made my trip was winning the Weight Over Bar event for the 4th time at the World’s.   I really thought I had no chance at beating the two legendary Scots but it ended up being my day!  Chad was a big help spotting for me and keeping me focused.  I get deservedly kidded for focusing on this event but I love it and I won’t apologize for enjoying my win even if it’s just one event!

Thom Van Vleck winning the WOB event.

I know Dave was in a very tough group.  It was great to see him in Scotland with Larry.  Dave’s best events were the hammers where he placed 4th in both the light and heavy.  He was also 5th in the Heavy weight for distance.  Dave was in the 60-64 age group…..Which had THREE former or current World Champs in his group….by far the toughest in my opinion relative to the competition and age. I think Dave would be at the top had he not blown both quads a few years back.  I think he’s an amazing story recovering from that injury and coming back to throw well enough to contend for the podium.

Next year the World’s are slated for St. Louis, Missouri…back in the USA!  Looking forward to it all ready!

Tomatin Toss

by Thom Van Vleck

All lined up for the "Tomatin Toss" which was an attempt to break the Guinness Word Record for a mass caber toss! photo by Chad Ullom

USAWA members Chad Ullom and myself recently took a trip to Inverness, Scotland to take part in the Masters World Championship of Highland Games.  I will report on that later, but first I wanted to tell you about an exciting event Chad and I got to take part in.

There is a Guinness World Record for simultaneous Caber tossing and it stood at 53 Cabers.  Cabers are “logs” or “telephone poles” that are stood on end and the athlete has to pick it up, run with it, and flip it end over end for an “official turn”.  The previous record was held by a Highland Games in Fergus, Canada.  After the Games in Inverness we were invited with some 126 other throwers to try and break this record.  I have to be honest at this point and admit that Chad and I had some reservations regarding this as it could be quite dangerous with 126 logs flying through the air at once.  Previous attempts were very dicey!  But, in the end, we couldn’t pass up the chance to take part.

Tomatin Scotch Distillery was sponsoring the event so it was call the “Tomatin Toss”.

As we set up the sun was setting.  An official from Guinness had been flown in and he appeared to be a very proper Englishman!  He walked around with his head up and seemed to be scrutinizing everyone and everything!  We lined up on two sides and were throwing at one another….we had to question that!  There was a truck with a big screen TV at the end televising the event.  We had to wait for what seemed to be forever to get the “go”.

The instructions we received were a bit vague and this led to some confusion.  It’s tough enough to turn a caber but to do it on cue….well…that’s a real trick.  Chad is a master at the caber and I feel pretty confident with it myself.  I was only one of 6 that turned the caber in by age group of 20 athletes who were all proficient with the caber.  Still, it was a tall order!  The cabers were also not well made, as they were made for a “one time” turn.  This is NOT to say they preparation was poor…just that the cabers had been cut over the past 6 months and some had dried too much!  Chad and I knew we could have a caber snap on us and when that happens you never know what will happen.

Finally, we got a countdown.  As I began to “pick” (lift the caber into the tossing position) I had to simply focus on my caber and no one elses.  This put me at the total trust of the athletes around me that they wouldn’t lose control and dump it on my head.  As I heard the announcer hit “one” I ran up the caber and at zero gave it a pull….and much to my own pleasure it went flying over.  I glanced to my right and saw that Chad had successfully turned his and as it hit the ground it snapped in half!

While 126 had attempted and we only needed 54 for the record it was apparent as I looked around we might have a problem.  Many of the athletes were not as adept at the caber and had failed to get a turn.  Others had misjudged the timing and while they turned the caber it was not “simultaneous” with the rest.  The video was reviewed over and over and we were asked to stay in position as the judges reviewed the video and scored each turn individually.  The Guinness judge made his way up and down the field repeatedly…..about a half an hour went by and we were beginning to wonder if we had done it!

Finally, the Guinness judge took the microphone….and he did milk it a bit….but in the end he declared we had broken the record with 66 successful turns.  We all immediately headed to the beer tent to celebrate….not just the Guinness record…but the weekend as a whole.  I was really actually pretty glad to just survive the whole thing.  I remember as a kid reading the Guinness record book and wondering if I would ever be a part of it….and now I am!

The Gada Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

The Great Gama with his Gada (Mace).

When I was a kid my first influence in physical fitness was my grandfather Dalton Jackson  He started training in 1928 at the age of 13.  At that time training information was sparse and what was available was often poor and sometimes dangerous!  One area my grandfather was interested in was wrestling and this led him to one of the greatest of all time….the Great Gama.  Gama wrestled in India (although I have learned he was ethnically Pakistani) for 50 years and was undefeated in that span!  He lived from 1880 to 1963 and his exploits were legendary.  He beat everyone in India and then sailed to England and challenged the world.  He had a “Gar Nal” that weighed over 200lbs that was a stone ring that he would put around his neck to do squats.  There is a story that he lifted a 1200kg (2645lbs) stone.  It is claimed he lifted this stone to his chest and then carried it.  I think that’s impossible but I do think it’s possible he may have lifted the stone in some fashion (such as lifting the edge off the ground or flipping the stone or some other partial lift).  Both of these stones are in a museum in Pakistan now.   It is also interesting that Bruce Lee studied Gama’s training habits very closely and adapted them to his own philosophies.

Classic use of the Indian Clubs in both hands from an old English book on training.

One of Gama’s favorite training tools was his Gada (or Mace).  It was a very heavy version of an Indian club.  The legend behind it is that it was the main weapon of the Hindu god Hanuman.  Hanuman was the god of strength and was the god that Indian wrestlers worshiped.  So basically it is a war club what the Europeans called a “Mace”.  I often think of it as being the first weapon ever and picture a cave man carrying his club!  It became one of the traditional training pieces in Hindu physical culture and was eventually transferred to England in the from of the “Indian Club” that was a popular part of the early physical culture movement in Victorian England over 100 years ago.  One Gada could be used or two.  You will often see the Indian club trained with two at a time.

Dalton Jackson doing his modified "Gada" exercises.

When I was a kid I would watch my Uncle’s train with barbells and dumbbells. They were Olympic style lifters and trained as such.  Meanwhile my grandfather always seemed to be doing something different.  I hate to say it but there was a point where I was a teen that I was “all in” to weightlifting and when my grandfather tried to teach me on some of his training I didn’t listen well (politely…but not closely as I always respected him).  I have few photos of him training but one I do shows him with makeshift “Gada” style dumbbells.  I realize now that much of his training was based on “Indian” style training and since the Great Gama favored the Gada, so did my grandfather.

Part II:  Building the Ultimate Gada

Leadership Awards

by Al Myers

Tim Piper (left) presenting the Leadership Award to Denny Habecker.

Tim Piper (left) presenting the Runner Up Leadership Award to Thom Van Vleck.

The Leadership Award in the USAWA goes to an individual “that has shown exceptional leadership qualities within the USAWA during the past year.  Things that should be looked at are going above the level expected of an Officer position, promoting sanctioned events with emphasis being on promoting National or World Competitions, promoting the USAWA by developing a strong club, writing articles for publications about the USAWA, or through other means.”

The two winner of this award, and very deserving of it, were:

WINNER – DENNY HABECKER

RUNNER UP – THOM VAN VLECK

Both Denny and Thom were on hand to receive their awards at our National Meet Ceremony.  But then you would expect that out of them as they are leaders in the organization.  Their inputs at our National Championships was vital.  Thom served as the Head Official of the entire meet and did not compete because he would rather “give” than “take”.  Thom’s contributions of writing for the USAWA Website on a frequent basis has helped ensure it’s success.

Denny has been our USAWA President for many years now.  He is the ultimate leader of the USAWA.  He attends practically every big event promoted within the USAWA and the IAWA.  If a lifter does not know Denny it is because they are not very involved!  Denny attends meets all across the country and interacts with the entire USAWA membership.  At Nationals he sat in the officials chair WHILE he was lifting just because that duty needed attended to.   I think Denny is the best President the USAWA has ever had.

I’m glad to see the USAWA membership recognize these two for their contributions to the organization. They have earned it!

Chad Ullom: All Around All Rounder!

by Thom Van Vleck

Chad turns another caber!

Chad Ullom has been a fixture in the USAWA and IAWA for some time.  He is a National and World Champ and has a slug of records to his credit.  You would think that would be enough to keep him busy but Chad is also a regular on the Highland Games circuit!  At one time Chad was a top rated Amateur in Highland Games and regularly won many “A” class Amateur competitions.

A couple years ago Chad turned 40 and as with most of us who threw A class and got older he found himself being beat out by the next generation and soon was competing (and winning) in the the masters category.  There was even and younger thrower named Chad Gustin from Lawrence that came along and he soon became “New Chad” and Ullom became….alas…”OLD CHAD”.  Anyone over 40 knows the feeling.

Well….”Old Chad” dusted off the age last weekend at the  2014 Kansas City Scottish Highland Games and threw with the A class again.  He was by far the oldest in the group but that wasn’t a factor at all.  I was the announcer at the games and had a front seat for all of it.  Chad began to win or place well in events and soon he was dominating the field.  Chad won handily.   Chad will tell you it was not the strongest field KC has ever seen but I think all you have to do is look at some of his throws and see that Chad was in top form.  For example, Chad had only cleared 14ft in the 56lb WOB  once in his 19 year Highland Games career….but he cleared it last Saturday!  And almost went higher!

I have to tell you, I found myself being the longest tenured athlete on the field that day going into my 20th season.  It was nice to see one of the “old” guys take it to the younger men.  Chad came back on Sunday and threw masters and easily won again.  It was quite a weekend.  Other USAWA members on the field included Dean Ross and myself.  We all plan on being at Nationals this coming weekend.

Great job to Chad and maybe there’s something to training like an “all-rounder”!

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