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Face of Defense: Soldier Competes to Honor Late Wife

By John Crosby
Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind., Aug. 13, 2010 – The installation support unit safety officer here is competing in this year’s Scottish Highland Games 2010 Masters World Championships in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to honor the memory of his wife, who died in October.

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Army Maj. Kenneth Knight competes in the Scottish games wearing his family’s traditional kilt. Knight competes in honor of his late wife, who took pride in her Scottish roots. U.S. Army photo by John Crosby

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“It gives me a way to keep my wife’s heritage alive,” Army Maj. Kenneth Knight said. “It’s a way to stay close to her.”

While earning his Bachelor of Science degree in history from the College of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, Knight met his wife in the late 1980s. The college sweethearts were married in 1991.

Knight’s wife began researching her genealogy and found she had Scottish blood on both sides of her family as well as certain levels of Bruce family royalty. This sparked their interest, the major said, and they began researching Scottish games, rules and guidelines.

The games started sometime around the 15th century, when Scotland was conquered by Great Britain. The Scots weren’t allowed to practice with weapons due to fear of revolt, so they used everyday items such as rocks, hammers, stakes and logs in competition to see who was the strongest and fastest and who would take the role of protecting clan chiefs. In modern times, the feats have become sport, with participants across the world competing.

Knight and his wife traveled together, learning and participating in different Scottish sporting events. They developed their own unique family kilt. He even constructed his own homemade equipment using chains, weights and rocks.

Common events in the competitions include the “hammer throw,” “weight throw” and the “sheath throw,” which essentially is a 20-pound bundle of straw tossed for distance with a pitchfork.

“It’s a very inexpensive sport in a sense,” Knight said, noting that the traditional sport stays true to its roots, created with whatever the Scottish people had on hand.

Knight said he practiced his throws in his backyard regularly until something happened that put an end to that. “I put a hole in the side of the house,” he recalled, laughing. “After that, the wife was like, ‘You’re done!’ Now I go out to a field at my kid’s elementary school and throw out there.”

Knight shared his commitment to the sport with his wife, who filmed his practices. They would spend hours together studying video of Knight throwing, analyzing his form and contrasting it with video of professionals.

“It was a team partnership, said Knight. “She would always go to all of the competitions with me. It was a family affair. She got a chance to talk to the other wives, make new friends and have a good time learning the Scottish culture. We took the kids, and they loved it also.”

He and his wife stayed at it.

“My first year was spent really getting introduced to the sport and learning techniques from other competitors and some of the pros,” he said. He’s proven to be somewhat of a natural, placing 12th worldwide in his division. He has created a stir in the Scottish games world and was invited to this year’s championships.

“My first games were a lot of fun,” Knight said. “I had to compete against a couple of world champions at my first one. I beat them at the first event, which caught their eye. They were like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ I ended up in fifth place out of 10 guys in that competition. They started showing me some techniques.”

Knight competed in eight more games that season. His wife became ill and died Oct. 11, three days before his birthday. This year, Knight plans on improving his skill and competing in her memory.

Between his Army duties here and raising his four children on his own, Knight studies and travels to compete in his sport several times a year. He even has his children and his brother-in-law involved, practicing with him.

“It’s a gentlemen’s and a family sport,” Knight said, noting that people 16 through 70 are welcome to participate.

Knight said he plans to keep up with the sport until he is an old man and can’t throw any more. Meanwhile, he said, he’ll compete to keep his wife’s memory alive.

“This year is her memorial season,” he said. “I’m just going to continue celebrating her.”


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Kenneth Knight competes in the Scottish games wearing his family’s traditional kilt. Knight competes in honor of his late wife, who took pride in her Scottish roots. U.S. Army photo by John Crosby  
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