Nick Kahanic paid a visit to Jamestown Community College one August day seven years ago to enjoy a Celtic celebration that was being held on campus.
In the middle of a fabulous NAIA track and field career at Roberts Wesleyan College at the time - he was a 13-time All-American before he was through - the Falconer resident made the appearance to not only enjoy some social time with friends, but also to support his mother Kim's love for all things Scottish.
"She listens to bagpipes when she's reading the newspaper,'' Nick said with a laugh.
Falconer resident and Highland Games athlete Nick Kahanic is currently the No. 1-ranked amateur in North America.
Nick Kahanic competes in the caber toss. Submitted photo
At some point during the festival, Kim found Nick, the youngest of her three grown children, and suggested he check out one of the events that was taking place that she thought resembled an activity he knew an awful lot about - throwing heavy weights around.
"She's the one,'' Nick recalled earlier this month, "who grabbed my shirt, dragged me over, and said, 'Isn't that the shot put?'''
What it was, however, was Nick's introduction to Scottish heavy athletics known as the Highland Games. Men, wearing kilts, were doing a demonstration that included throwing around heavy stones and other objects, much like he was accustomed to doing as a member of Roberts Wesleyan's track and field team.
Never bashful, Nick, now 27, saw the activity as an invitation.
"I stepped on the field,'' he said, "and told the guys, 'You know what? I can beat you at this.'''
He wasn't kidding.
Since every event was in some way connected to Nick's successes in track and field, the precocious kid from Hickory Street in Falconer, beat all the guys in kilts that day.
About a month later and armed with the encouragement of one of the men he knocked off at JCC, Nick competed in his first Highland Games at the Niagara Regional Championships in Buffalo.
Amazingly, he took second place. As it turned out, it was only the beginning.
"Every year I've taken it a tad more serious,'' he said.
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The Highland Games, according to the free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia, are "events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands.''
Such celebrations revolve around athletic and sports competitions, including such "heavy" mainstays as the caber toss, the stone put, the Scottish hammer throw, the weight throw, the weight for height and the sheaf toss. Many of the competitors are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.
That's what appealed to Nick after he experienced his surprising success during his first foray against the Highland Games amateurs at JCC. A multiple-time state qualifier during his Falconer Central School career and, later, an All-American in the shot and the hammer at Roberts Wesleyan, Nick has taken his latest competitive endeavor to the highest level.
Well, when he boarded a flight Thursday night for this weekend's North American Championships in suburban Seattle, Nick was ranked the No. 1 overall amateur in the United States and Canada.
In other words, Nick is the best at what he does, whether he's throwing a heavy stone (weighing anywhere from 22 to 26 pounds); an open stone (16-18 pounds); a 56-pound block attached to a handled chain; a light weight (28 pounds); a sheaf (a 20-pound bundle of straw wrapped in burlap is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in the pole vault); and a caber (a long tapered pole, weighing 100 to 180 pounds is stood upright and hoisted and, ultimately, tossed in such a way that it turns end over end).
"Actually, I went up to Canada (in June) and competed in the amateur class and I broke every single one of the field records, except for one, and I set them so high that the amateur records are better than the pro records,'' said Nick, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 270 pounds. "I would have won seven of the nine events in the pro competition.''
It's been that kind of year so far for the 2004 Falconer Central School graduate.
After breaking into the top 10 among amateurs in 2012, Nick has been downright dominant this year. Much of the credit, he maintains, is the instruction he's received on-line and via phone from James Bullock, a trainer and Navy Seal from Joplin, Mo., who Nick joined forces with last October.
"When he says eat lima beans,'' Nick joked, "I eat a whole can. Whatever he says, I do."
One of Nick's highlights was his performance at the Central Florida Highland Games just three months after beginning work with Bullock. Competing against some of the best, he placed fourth overall, courtesy of a number of personal bests, after beginning the competition as the third alternate.
Since that breakout performance in January, Nick has finished first in five competitions and second in another, providing him with plenty of momentum and motivation heading into this weekend's North American Championships.
The trip to the Pacific Northwest is just one in a series of important road trips he'll be taking in the next six weeks. The other stops, among others, include Pleasanton, Calif. (for the U.S. Championships) and Shakopee, Minn. (for the Amateur World Championships).
Thanks to sponsorships from Route 5 Athletics in Dunkirk, Landrich Power Systems in Fredonia and strongandfar.com, Nick is able to travel while successfully juggling his work schedule at Pepsi.
So far, the sponsors are getting their money's worth.
"It's awesome, absolutely awesome,'' Nick said. " But being ranked No. 1 is one thing and going out on the field and earning No. 1 is a totally different thing. Throughout my career I've been a gamer. If you throw 50 feet, I'll throw 51 right after you."
Nick said he gets that dedication from his father, Paul, the you-can-do-whatever-you-want attitude from his mom and a "stop-thinking-and-just-throw'' mentality from his former coach, Rich Bianco.
So as Nick prepared to leave for Washington on Thursday, Nick sent an email to a sportswriter and said, "I'm headed out in about an hour. Nervous is gone, anxious is definitely setting in. I'm ready!
"No thinking, just throw!!''