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The World's largest celebration of Basque culture—in Boise.

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These sport pros eschew more widely popular games, such as soccer and basketball, for games that are as unique to Basque tradition as the pimiento-flavored sandwiches. They include pelota, a game of handball involving a tiny, rock-hard ball, which is played against an outdoor wall, or fronton, in isolated communities like the Jordan Valley, and in indoor courts such as the one—which just happens to be the oldest Basque pelota court in the United States—in the basement of Boise’s old Anduiza Hotel.

The sport of Basque weightlifting is not the type of thing you’d see at Gold’s Gym.

Other sports such as wood chopping, tug-of-war, and weightlifting are tests of strength and endurance that originated in the Pyrenees Mountains along the borders of France and Spain, where Basques worked in stone quarries and mines. Friendly competitions evolved over time, in a way similar to the development of rodeo in the American West.

Among those who have taken up the unusual form of Basque weightlifting in this country is Jon Arrieta, who works behind a desk for Idaho Power Company five days a week. He pursues his father’s and his uncle’s passion for Basque weightlifting on weekends.

On this hot July afternoon, beads of sweat run down Arrieta’s face as he hoists a 200-pound concrete block up onto his chest, and then rolls it end-over-end up onto his shoulders. His quilted calico vest is white—or at least it was, years ago. Now it bears gray and rust-colored stains from the many times Arrieta and his father, Jose Luis Arrieta, have lifted concrete blocks or long, hollow metal pipes.

Arrieta grunts and hoists the block up onto his right shoulder, letting it rest there just a few seconds before dropping it onto a beefy pillow. He steps back, breathing heavily for a few seconds, then bends over and wraps his arms around the block again. Onlookers erupt in cheers.

This sport of Basque weightlifting is not the type of thing you’d see at Gold’s Gym or a Mr. Fitness competition. But for the Basques, it’s as engaging as watching an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s part of our tradition,” explains Arrieta, signing an autograph for a Basque youngster inquiring about how to get started in Basque weightlifting. “I’m just taking up where my father left off. He brought the tradition with him when he came from the Old Country to herd sheep out of Emmett with the Little family. And my uncle won a weightlifting championship when he was nineteen.”>>>


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