Shake off the lab coats and don the kilts: It’s hammer time

July 3, 2013 at 10:33 am






By Sara Wykes, Staff Writer for the department of Communications & Public Affairs at the Stanford School of Medicine

Brian Grone, PhD, has brains and brawn: He can tell you how acute light exposure suppresses circadian rhythms in clock gene expression. But for fun, the School of Medicine postdoctoral scholar likes to toss a 17-foot-long, 75-pound wooden pole into the air, end over end.

Otherwise known as caber tossing, that pole-flipping is an event in a competitive genre called Scottish heavy athletics — and Grone, along with several others in the Stanford Medicine community, are members of the Cardinal Highland Athletic Club, formed serendipitously several years ago in much the same way Grone came to be a member.

“I saw cabers out here by a tree, and saw Alan around with the kilt and made the connection,” Grone said. Alan Hebert is a computer research associate at the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine, which isn’t too far from the Sand Hill Road recreational fields where the team practices twice a week. Hebert is the team’s unofficial recruiter, but the sport really sells itself.

“For some people, it’s the heritage,” Hebert said. “There really is something to be said for picking up a weight and knowing that 120 years before, somebody else with a kilt did the same thing.” Hebert is talking about the most modern tradition of the games, though these kinds of sports have taken place for many centuries.

Others, like Brady Weissbourd, a Stanford PhD candidate in biology and onetime captain of Harvard’s volleyball team, find appeal in the physical challenge. “It’s basic strength,” Weissbourd said. “Who can throw this heavy rock the farthest? It’s also fun and a good way to get out of the lab.”

Stanford Blood Center phlebotomist Bethany Owen once loved dressing up for Highland games as a spectator, but after her first few tries at throwing, discarded her corset for a kilt and the thrill of it all. Small distances between flung objects can separate finishers. “We call them the ‘ooh-aah’ events,” Owen said, “the ones the crowd really gets into — and we all cheer for each other.”

For more information about the team and to check out their schedule, visit

This article adapted from material provided by the Stanford University School of Medicine.