MARRIOTT-SLATERVILLE -- Lee Mitchell's list of hobbies isn't a typical one: hammer throw, railroad handcar racing, power lifting, spike driving and, most important, caber tossing.
Since 2002, Mitchell has fallen in love with the caber toss, which involves throwing a large, wooden pole called a caber. Maybe it's in his blood, as both his father and mother have a Scottish heritage. It has led him to a decade of state caber-toss championship titles. Most recently, he claimed the Washington State caber-toss champion title Aug. 6.
"I never thought I would be a state champion of anything when I was younger," Mitchell said. "Not only am I Utah's champion, I'm one of the nationally elite caber tossers. There's just a thrill when you do well at anything."
The goal of the caber toss is not to throw the caber a long distance, but to toss it end over end, so it falls straight from the tosser in a 12 o'clock position. Mitchell screams, yells and even jumps in the air when he hits a perfect 12 o'clock score.
The caber toss originated in Scotland near the end of the 11th century. Some claim the sport evolved from the need to cross narrow chasms via a long log.
To honor the sport's roots, competitors typically dress in a kilt and long, wool stockings adorned with "flashes," which are colorful ribbons attached to garters. Mitchell's wardrobe includes three kilts, one in camouflage and another, imported directly from Scotland, that cost $400.
One of his favorite events is the Highland Games held annually in July in Payson, where he got his start in the sport. He also has competed at events at Hill Air Force Base, Draper, Cache Celtic Festival, West Valley, Cedar City, Thanksgiving Point, Huntington, Emery County and Jackson Hole, collecting awards all along the way.
Surrounded in his home by ribbons and medals, Mitchell is particularly fond of the more unusual awards, such as a railroad tie and assortment of knives that resemble a thistle, Scotland's national emblem.
Mitchell, a native of Clinton, didn't earn many awards in high school. His path to Scottish heavy athletics got its start in the handcar races in which he and his family competed in the 1990s. When local support for the handcar races waned, Mitchell searched for a new sport.
On his spacious Marriott-Slaterville property, he often throws a 19-foot log weighing 60 pounds. In his years of practice, he broke so many wooden cabers that he decided to start tossing a steel one. An old 13-foot-long flag pole weighing 108 pounds now fits the bill.
There is no standard length or weight for competition cabers, although usually they are made of pine. At the beginning of a competition, all competitors agree on a caber to use, usually the straightest one.
Caber tossing requires strength, power, balance and speed, Mitchell said. It helps that at 57, he still can dead-lift 440 pounds, just as he did when he claimed the Utah power lifting title in 2003.
Nine countries have representatives at world caber-toss events, Mitchell said. He hopes the sport gains enough of a following that it becomes an Olympic event in the future.
"The sport is growing," Mitchell said. "It takes as much strength, power, speed and determination as any sport."
His own support of the growing sport is evident in his surroundings. A vinyl caber-toss silhouette is stuck to his screen door. His license plate reads "CABER12," signifying the 12 o'clock perfect scoring position. A Scottish flag flies at the edge of a recently mowed field where Mitchell practices his sport.
Despite his dedication to the sport, Mitchell misses his biggest fan. His father died four years ago, and Mitchell still sometimes finds himself listening for his father's high-pitched whistle from the crowd.
But it's almost as much fun to see his neighbors' questioning glances when he practices in his yard.
"I educate them about the sport," Mitchell said. "I guess I have bragging rights."