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Co-ed Youth Strength Challenge captivates big crowd at annual Middleton festival


MIDDLETON, N.S. —

Madison Steele had no problem lifting a 174-pound stone off the grass onto the top of a waist-high barrel. Her partner Chris Llewellyn picked up a 211-pounder and did the same.

The pair powered through the events in the Co-ed Youth Strength Challenge at Rotary Park in Middleton July 20 to place No. 1 in the crowd-pleasing event.

It was part of Heart of the Valley Festival and proved to be popular.

Organizer Jamie Peppard had delayed the 5 p.m. competition by an hour in hopes that the thermometre might drop a few degrees from the 30C mark. It was still hot and muggy by 6 p.m. but 10 young athletes, paired up in five teams, met the challenge of pulling an 18,000-pound fire truck, flipping giant tires, lifting mammoth stones, and loading a flat-bed truck with those same tires and old beer kegs.

It was no activity for couch potatoes.

While Youth Strength Challenges have been held before, Peppard said this was the first co-ed one.

“Any time you put together a new event -- and co-ed Youth Strength Challenge is a new event, no one else is doing it in the province -- you have a couple risks,” Peppard said. “You don’t know how it’s going to come out. The most important thing for everyone is you want to keep athletes healthy.”

He said with a good, capable spotting crew the competitors were safe and that with a good organizing committee and fantastic youth strength athletes, it was a big hit. If cheering from the crowd was any measure of success the event will be on again next year.

HAPPY

“I’m really happy the way it turned out; so proud of these young people,” Peppard said. “Not only because of their strength, but because they’re just good people in their communities. They do all the right things and they send a message to other young people. They’re role models. Those are the kids we need to empower. Today they got to put on a show and I think the local people really appreciate seeing such great young people in the community stepping up.”

Bailey Dowell was teamed up with Connor Ross in the black T-shirts that said ‘Be Strong.’ She took part in Peppard’s Highland Gathering a few years back at Lawrencetown Education Centre where he’s principal.

“She’s one of a kind,” said Peppard in reference to Dowell. “She’s a university athlete, she throws some highland games, she does some strength events, and still maintains such an elite level. She was academic all Canadian this year. She’s swimming for Acadia. She’s very unique. One of a kind. We’re very lucky to have any affiliation with her really.”

SMITH

Derek Smith, a Canadian and world powerlifting champion, was partnered with Maddie Ross, Connor Ross’s sister.

“Derek Smith is just another one of those outstanding young people in the community who already knows the value of giving back to the community,” Peppard said. “He put hours in with us organizing this. He went around and worked with all the other young athletes on the events specifically so we all felt it was going to be safe for them. He encouraged them.”

He said Smith, a university student, often works with the young kids in the community.

“Any time you have a kid who gets everybody’s attention – because of his powerlifting Canadian championship and his highland games career – kids listen to him -- and he’s saying the right things,” said Peppard.

Maddie Ross, Smith’s Youth Strength Challenge partner, came down from Coldbrook.

“She’s an awesome athlete,” Peppard said. “A rugby girl. Trains a lot. They worked together four nights specifically on the events and really came together as a team. It showed today. The teamwork is the key. You couldn’t do any of these events by yourself. You really need to coordinate your efforts to be successful.”

WINNERS

The top team of Chris Llewellyn and Madison Steele powered through the events.

“What can you say about those two,” Pappard said. “Madison Steele, she’s been training at the gym (Fitness Experience) over there since she was probably 11, and Chris is pound for pound one of the strongest kids we’ve ever had come through the doors over there. He trains at a level that is rare to find in a young person. When you put those two together, you’re going to see some great things. Today, not only the strength, but the athleticism was on clear display I think.”

Rounding out the teams were Taggart Rhoddy, a well-known highland games athlete, paired with Maggie Llewellyn; and Luke Sawler with Autumn Atkinson. Atkinson, at 13, was the youngest of the athletes and new to such competition.

Jim Nickerson, a top Canadian highland games athlete himself, had microphone duties during the Youth Strength Challenge and explained each event to the crowd. During a break in events, a competition was held to see who could flip a 22-foot caber closest to landing in the 12 o’clock position. Nickerson took that contest with a perfect throw.

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