HER Outdoors Week (14-20th August): Menapians A.C.
Last Tuesday evening, Menapians Athletics Club organised a very well attended weight for distance throwing evening for women at its sports ground at Park, Wexford. The event, held in glorious sunshine, was one of many held across the country to celebrate Her Outdoors week. This is a Sport Ireland initiative which aims to encourage more girls and women to enjoy the benefits of being active outdoors.
Weight for distance is a long established throwing event which once ranked alongside the better known throwing events such as hammer, discus, shot and javelin. The centre-piece of weight for distance is a spherical shaped weight, with different weights for different categories, attached by means of a short chain to a triangular handle. The athlete, from a standing position, throws the weight as far along the ground as possible. There is also a weight for height event which involves throwing the weight over an overhead bar.
In his welcome address to the women, coach Michael McKeon gave a little background to the sport. He said that the throwing events we see at Olympics and in competition come mostly from weapons used in battle and, he pointed out, used by women as well as men. Both weight for distance and weight for height, traditional in Ireland and Scotland and, through emigration, in parts of the United States, has very different origins to those events deriving from weapons. Traditionally, a weight was used to measure crop yield at harvest time. Once the harvest was saved, farm workers were in festive mode and the ensuing celebrations included traditional games such as tossing the sheaf, hammer throw and weight for distance. This was the genesis of harvest-time festival games and, while these have largely died off, many of the activities can still be seen at parish field days.
With the history lesson completed, there was a demonstration of throwing technique by athlete and acclaimed singer/songwriter Rachel Grace. Coach Catherine O’Connor led everyone through some warm up exercises before the athletes lined up for some practise throws.
The group included experienced athletes alongside some who had never thrown anything heavier than caution to the wind! All Ireland Masters medallist and rowing enthusiast Deirdre Bowers Kavanagh was there. So was her Enniscorthy AC clubmate Lisa Breen. Former Mayor, Councillor Maura Bell, not known for flinging her weight around, had no trouble flinging the heavy ball a huge distance. Former Irish international discus thrower Ailish O’Brien of DMP AC, delighted to see so many women attending a throwing event, was happy to view proceeding from the sidelines.
Then it was competition time, each athlete getting three measured throws. The ladies kept a close eye on the measuring tape-wielding Padraig Kelly as he pinned where each effort landed with Mick McKeon calling the distance at the board, Siobhan Doyle keeping the tape straight and Margaret Malone carefully logging each throw.
Niamh Duggan, a total newcomer to the event, generated a collective a murmur of appreciation as she threw the 20lb weight out past the 5 metres mark on her first throw. The experienced Deirdre Bowers Kavanagh opened with 5.78 metres. Lisa Breen was measured at 5 metres flat.
With the first round completed, the noise level increased appreciably, as competitive instincts kicked in. Top layers were shed, feet planted at the board, muscles flexed. Nearly everyone threw further with their second effort, particularly Orla Redmond who joined the big throwers with a massive 5.10 metres. Into round three and there was no holding back, not least for Therese Byrne and Sinead Ryan who joined the 5 metres+ club. Deirdre BK, to whoops of delight and thunderous applause, sent the weight a whopping 6.45 metres. Needless to say, no one came within an ass’s roar of this making Deirdre the overall winner. Niamh Duggan was adjudged best new comer and Mary Cronin took the title of most consistent athlete of the competition.
A number of women, appetites whetted, stayed on to try out the more established throwing events including discus, shot and javelin. The rest headed off into the setting sun, flexed shoulders thrown back, heads held high. They were no doubt wondering how standing out in a field of an evening tossing a 20lb weight about could be such fun. Celts to the core!