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AU News

Kinesiology Professor Doubles as Highlands Games Champion

August 14, 2018

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Aslynn Halvorson, a kinesiology professor at AU, is one of the country’s top Highlands Games athletes. 

Say you’re driving along and there, out in a field by the highway, you spot a woman with a pitchfork, piercing a burlap sack full of hay and tossing it as high as she can over a crossbar. Again. And again. And again.

Or, forget the pitchfork and burlap and hay. Maybe instead she’s flipping a large wooden stick the size of a telephone pole end over end over end. 

Might that make you slow down and take a closer look? Aslynn Halvorson, a second-year professor at Anderson University’s College of Health Professions, understands. She’s used to people staring.

“While practicing at the Athletic Campus, I do get some stares from students,” she said. 

It’s not Crossfit, though Aslynn could understand if that’s what you think. No, she’s practicing for the Highland Games, a series of contests held throughout the world in celebration not only of raw athletic prowess, but of traditional Scottish and Celtic culture. 

And Aslynn, who teaches in AU’s kinesiology program, is one of the best Highlands Games athletes in the country. 

For most of her life, Aslynn didn’t spend weekends wearing a kilt and throwing rocks or crude hammers around a field

(In fact, It wasn’t until recently that she even knew the extent of her Scottish heritage. It took one of those popular DNA tests to illustrate her interest in the Highland Games may have as much to do with some sort of cultural collective unconscious as it does with her desire to stay physically fit.) 

Anderson University Highlands Games Aslynn Halvorson“I was a track-and-field athlete at the University of Tennessee, and a coach, for 12 years,” she said. She competed in more easily recognizable events like the shot put, discus and hammer throw. “When I ‘retired,” I wanted to stay active. And, as a kinesiology professor, it’s important that I lead by example.”

A friend of hers, also a track-and-field coach, suggested she give the Highland Games a try. 

“I ended up going to a practice with him, and three weeks later I was competing in my first games,” Aslynn said. “I discovered I was pretty good at it.”

She’s good at understating facts, as well. After all, in that first competition, in Maryville, Tennessee, she won second overall. That was just one year ago. 

Since then, she has won first place in several competitions, including twice at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games near Linville, North Carolina – one of the biggest competitions in the United States. This past January, she was invited to compete in the annual East vs. West Highland Games in Orlando, Florida. That one is a gathering of the top competitors from each coast, and she won fifth overall while helping the East team win the title. And later this month, she’s off to the Elite Highlands Games – the first time an Elite event is held for women – taking place in Salem, Virginia. 

For the start of AU’s fall semester on August 22, she’ll teach for two day before “hopping in my car to compete before I head back to class on that Monday,” she said. 

Dr. Don Peace, Dean of the AU College of Health Professions, said Aslynn’s experiences are great for her kinesiology students. 

“I am very proud of what Aslynn brings to Anderson University,” Dr. Peace said. “She is a rich example to our AU students, and as an instructor she brings wonderful assets to her classroom.” 

Given her interest, what she brings to the classroom is certainly unique, not just in how she stays fit herself, but also in how she uses it to inform classroom instruction.

“In a lot of my courses, I focus on general wellness, and teach my students that everyone needs an outdoor hobby to keep them active and fit,” Aslynn said. 

For some, that’s hiking. For others, it’s laps around a pool. 


“It could mean throwing trees on the weekend,” she said. “I’ve actually taught some of my students to throw the sheaf.” (That’s the pitchfork-and-burlap-bag-meets-pole-vault thing, by the way.)

“My students have always been so supportive and curious,” she said. “It’s so cool to have students who are invested in seeing me be successful.”

Her experience works both ways. Not only does she have a ready-built support system – students who pop into her office to ask how she did in the latest competition– but she gives back by providing hands-on learning for students exploring careers in physical therapy or athletic training. You can’t learn everything from a book, after all. 

Once they enter a career, kinesiology students “will be working with individuals that have unique needs for their bodies,” Aslynn said. “Physical activity is adaptive, and you have to be that way as a coach or physical trainer. There are a lot of ways we can apply that to how we teach.”

Like demonstrating the sheaf, stone put or caber toss. 

And if anyone stares? Who cares.

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