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Mountain Games take over Heritage Farms

The Herald-Dispatch - 9/24/2017

HUNTINGTON - Although several tough teams were competing in Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation's Mountain Games at Heritage Farm on Saturday, it was a special team of combat veterans who quickly gained a lot of respect.

The Mountain Games comprises 10 scored competitions including an obstacle course, feat of strength, big foot hunting, coal mining, rock climbing, shelter building, archery, steel walking, tomahawk throwing and target shooting.

The fundraiser for the hospital kicked off by getting participants blood pumping with 5K and 10K trail runs.

Bradley Burck, vice president of the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation, said each event connected to a hardship of our ancestors.

"It's an event that celebrates central Appalachia history by doing all the things our ancestors had to do to survive, but nobody knows how to do anymore," Burck said. "Every single one of these events, I can take you to a story in history where people in this area had to do it before."

Like many of the other participants, the veterans appeared in matching shirts with game faces on and ready to play, but this team was unique.

It was made up of the Louisville Slugger Warriors, a slow pitch softball tournament team featuring U.S. military veterans and active duty personnel who have suffered physical and psychological wounds while on duty.

The team travels nationwide to bring awareness to military vets, while giving their members a chance at staying active and fight their own battles together, Gary Lafon of Huntington said.

"It's a rehabilitative tool for those guys to tell their stories, while also helping the local community understands what they face in a daily battle," he said.

The team features 14 players and three coach veterans with single leg, arm and hand amputations, as well as those living with post-traumatic stress disorder. They have members of the Air Force, Army and Navy.

Lafon said the team is hoping to set up a game in Huntington next year and thought the Mountain games would be a great way to introduce the team to the area.

"It's my hometown and my younger brother brought it up," he said. "We are trying to plan next year to come back to play softball and thought what better time to bring us in to do this to promote us a little bit and next year do a big softball event."

While they played as a team, Lafon said each player felt they would come out individually on top.

"We've been talking about it," he said. "Now there's a little competitive banter amongst us of who's going to win. I told them it was going to be me."

Aside from the fun and games, the Farm was also opened for its Way Back Weekend, which featured a storytelling and lumberjack contest Saturday afternoon. The lumberjack contest featured two of the best lumberjacks in the world going head to head, Burck said.

Audy Perry, executive director of the Heritage Farm foundation praised the CHH foundation for all they do for the community and finding a way to intertwine Heritage Farms with the games.

"It's a beautiful blend of who we are and our heritage," he said. "We are proud, hardworking, industrious people, and it's fun to celebrate that."

Burck said last year's inaugural event was successful, with the foundation netting more than $35,000. Participants called year round to make sure the event would return for a second year, he said.

While he said took on the course himself, he didn't think his chances of winning the competition were good, he said.

"Oh yeah. I've done every single one. I'm not particularly good at anyone of them," he said. "But I'm pretty sure my ancestors were not good at any of them, but were good enough to stay alive and pass on the genetics."

The Heritage Farm Way Back weekends will continue every Saturday through Dec. 9. Call 304-522-1244 for more information.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

 
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