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Almost 80 years ago, in the valley of the River Dee, Alexander Anthony Cameron of Dochanassie came to the village of Inver, where rested a stone of great fame—a clach cuid fir, or manhood stone, which up till then had resisted the efforts of every stout Scot who had tried to lift it. The Inver Stone was, and for that matter still is, a smooth, gray granite boulder shaped through the centuries by the watery nudgings of the Dee into an almost geometrically perfect sphere weighing 268 pounds. It was—and is—the largest manhood stone in Scotland, and Cameron had come 130 miles with the firm intention of raising it from the ground and placing it on a waist-high wall.
For hundreds of years young Highlanders had tested themselves in this fashion on these stones, most of which weighed between 175 and 225 pounds, and it was part of the rite of passage from boyhood for a lad to go to the home of his chieftain or laird and lift the local stone onto a wall. The Inver Stone, though, was a bit different. So much larger and smoother was it than an average manhood stone that it had become widely known not as a challenge through which a postpubescent boy might become a man but as a challenge through which a man might become a legend.
As for Cameron, he had the initial advantage of coming from legendary stock. His mother was a MacMillan, a clan renowned for such powerful ancestors as the great-uncle who was casting peat one day when his horse and cart became well and truly mired in the bog. "Hold on, horse," he said, "I'll gie ye a hand," whereupon he unhooked the hamestraps, freed the animal and with a mighty heave pulled the terrified horse onto higher ground. Then, going back to the cart and muttering under his breath, he carefully selected his footing and after a titanic struggle managed to place the wheels of the cart back on the track. Gasping for breath, he climbed back up, patted his horse gently on the neck and said, "I dinna wonder ye couldna pull it oot, horse. It was a struggle even for me."
With that sort of forebear, Cameron could hardly help being successful in his attempt to raise the Inver Stone to his waist and thus become a part of the strength lore of Scotland, lore that enthralls strong men from around the world, stoking their imaginations with thoughts of kilts and competition. One of those strong men was me.
From the time I began training with weights I read everything I could about strength and the cultures in which it flourished, and in all my reading nothing seemed quite so wonderful as the tales of brawny Scots hauling huge stones from the heather, tossing long and heavy logs called cabers and in general disporting themselves in a manner appropriate to strength athletes. Gradually, as my own size and strength began to approximate my imagination, I also began more and more often to dream of going to Scotland, and by the time I weighed over 300 pounds and had won my first national championship in powerlifting, I felt I was ready.
By then I had been corresponding for several years with David Webster, a Scot whose knowledge of the strength sports of his country is unexcelled, and together we made plans for my first visit across the water. But then the marvelous line concerning the ease with which plans "gang aft agley" began to have real meaning in my life; I learned that the trip to Scotland would conflict with my defense of the national powerlifting championship. What to do? Finally, I decided to defend and forgo the trip to the Highlands.
Of the many decisions I have made in my life that seem in retrospect to have been wrong, none has bothered me quite as much as this apparently trivial one. By not going when I was in my Jean Brodie years, I lost, or so I reasoned in later years when I weighed far less, not the chance to see the boulders and logs of the Highlands, because anyone with Freddie Laker's business address and a little patience can see these things at no great expense, but the chance to engage them, to participate. It bothers me still.
Often I had spoken to my wife of my fascination with Scotland's stones of strength and of my regret at not having gone across to try them when the main chance came. She understood. We share an interest in strength, and, though I have long since retired as a competitor, Jan is still very active (SI, Nov. 14, 1977), holding three of the four heavyweight records for women in powerlifting (480 in the squat, 463 in the deadlift and 1,127 in the total).
One evening earlier this year we were looking through a new and much enlarged version of David Webster's Scottish Highland Games when we came to a section devoted to a pair of stones even more famous than the Inver Stone—the Dinnie Stones. Some of the information in the section was new even to me, and I was reading slowly, savoring each bit, when Jan spoke suddenly: "Listen to this. 'Maybe one day as athletic standards go higher still, we will have women attempting to lift the stones of strength!' How about that? Old Dave even used an exclamation point."
Until then, the thought that Jan, or any other woman, might someday attempt one or more of Scotland's famous stones had never intruded on my feeling-sorry-for-myself reveries, but the moment she read and I heard those words from Webster's book I think we both knew she was one day going to try.