Armwrestling was different kind of event

March 26, 2011

Elaine Blik, Aberdeen’s resident world armwrestling champion, had told me a story last September about how in 1991 she had snapped her arm while competing left-handed.

As she explained in detail how the injury occurred and the trauma associated with the injury, I squirmed around a bit. When the NFL shows those bone-breaking replays, I look the other direction.

Of course, I figured I would never see anything like that. There were no arm wrestling tournaments on my schedule.

However, Blik’s passion about her sport got me to thinking when I saw a poster for the “Bad To The Bone Armwrestling Championships” that was being held on Saturday at the Clarion Inn right here in Pocatello.

With the weather sour, I thought this would be a good chance to try something on the “completely different” menu.

Most of us have seen some kind of armwrestling on television, and this competition was pretty much true to form. You have a pool table for pool, a poker table for poker and arm wrestling has its own arm wrestling table.

A pair of officials make sure the contestants have the grips just right, and then it’s “Let ’er rip.” In theory, pretty simple stuff.

I am a sucker for any kind of competition and this was no different. The competition ranged from children to seniors, from the smallest flyweights to the super heavies, from men to women. I could imagine myself up there … until I looked down at my pencil wrists.

This was one of those competitions that went all day and half the night, and I knew the competitive level would soar as we moved closer to the night’s open classes.

From what I perceived from this particular tournament, the early rounds kind of resemble hitting someone with a shovel. It takes about a half second from start to finish … a kind of “Whack!” and it’s over.

Then in the later rounds, it starts to get interesting.

I was having a good time. It was kind of an indoor picnic atmosphere with some of the competitors immediately grabbing a hot dog and cocktail right after competing … win or lose. How often do you hear a sporting event announcer say, “Don’t forget to tip your bartenders?”

The more serious competitors in the crowd, including those open division contestants who traveled from Boise or other states to test the best Southeast Idaho has to offer, kept their mind on business.

Robert Millward, an American Falls mechanic and a huge man, was entered in both the novice and open divisions at heavyweight. He has been away from the arm wrestling game for a while, but his strength was impressive. At one point, Blik wanted to take a photo, so Millward actually held up his opponent for a few seconds until she had snapped away, then finished his business with a twitch of his arm.

Millward said he couldn’t stay away from armwrestling because he missed the emotional rush of looking someone right in the eye and then testing strength … mano y mano.

Not far away from Millward was Shawn McEntire, a Highland High grad and a former ISU track athlete who now lives in Boise. McEntire said he just loves the competition and that, like any sport, the best armwrestlers (arm wrestlers) have to be dedicated to their training to succeed. “Armwrestling is a whole different ballgame,” McEntire said. “It’s about tendon strength. If you don’t train, you can get hurt pretty easy.”

Also competing in the open division at 176 pounds was Preston’s Damon Hull, the defending champ in both right- and left-handed competition. Hull picked up the sport after graduating from Preston in 2005.

Hull, who sports Pop-eye forearms, said it is hard to find a sport to remain competitive after high school sports have left the picture. Armwrestling keeps him training hard and he travels through Utah and Nevada to compete.

“If you don’t train hard, you won’t do well in armwrestling,” he said.

On Saturday, Hull started slamming down his opponents as the open division contestants squared off.

It looked somewhat unusual as every shape and size body walked to the front of the room to compete. “Some guys are just ripped and big, and you throw them down like nothing,” said Hull, who said when he got started in the sport he was crushed by some pretty scrawny looking guys who simply had great technique. He learned to improve his own technique, and to never judge an armwrestling book by its cover.

The men were finishing their left-handed competition when a pair of ladies faced off next to them. Jolene Richards and Haley Juglar-Cox were locked up for a very long four or five seconds in a 143-176 pounds open division ladies match, when Juglar-Cox turned her body just a bit to hopefully add some more force. Richards kept the pressure on.

The next sound was like a tree limb snapping in half. Juglar-Cox, who made the drive from Utah to compete, broke her arm just as Blik had described to me about her own injury years ago. As awful as it was to hear about, it was much worse to see in person.

The time passed as everyone waited for the EMTs to arrive, and I wondered how Blik ever got herself to compete again. As Juglar-Cox screamed in pain in the background, I wondered if she would have that same kind of strength. I looked at the armwrestling tables and wondered how much pressure it takes to snap a bone.

Basically, it was just more proof that every sport comes with a risk, and requires a certain amount of training for the competitors to be as safe as possible.

Myself, as far as armwrestling goes, I think I will stick to golf.


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