By Pamela Manson-The Salt Lake Tribune
As she was sitting behind bars a dozen years ago, Lisa Wolfley made a vow to change her life and become a positive member of society.
She did. Wolfley overcame her addictions, got physically and spiritually strong, earned a degree in health and exercise sciences, worked as a personal trainer and a medical dispatcher, became a facilitator for a 12-step program — and won a gold medal in the 2010 World Armwrestling Championship despite having a broken rib.
The Kearns woman said she wrestled her way to the top after defeating the demons that led to her substance-abuse problems. Visits from an LDS bishop while she was incarcerated started her on the path to success, Wolfley said.
“I’ve turned a negative lifestyle into a positive one,” she said.
Wolfley, 42, was a tomboy who joined in arm wrestling with her three older brothers and their friends when she was growing up. She started working out in junior high school and began weight lifting while attending Kearns High School.
She entered her first arm-wrestling tournament at age 19 after hearing about it on the radio and won. Wolfley then began serious training and entered other competitions, coming in third in both.
She gave up the sport for a long time because, Wolfley said, her then-husband didn’t think arm wrestling was ladylike. She also was making bad lifestyle choices that landed her behind bars in 1999. Spiritual guidance from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped Wolfley turn her life around, and she’s been sober for 12 years, she said.
For seven years, Wolfley has been weight lifting and doing practice rounds with friends to train for arm-wrestling matches. She also has held bake sales and car washes and gathered contributions to pay her way to matches in the United States and other countries.
The 5-foot-7 Wolfley — who competes in the 143-to-154-pound weight class — won her first gold medal in 2007, which earned her a spot on Team USA.
There were three more national gold medals, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Wolfley said she did it all without steroids; as a gold medalist she was tested after her wins and the results were negative for the performance-enhancing drugs.
Throughout the years, she arm wrestled at home with her young son, Saxxon Ryan. The two became the first mother-son duo on Team USA when Ryan joined several years ago and fellow champions when he won gold in his youth division. In December, Wolfley competed in the world championship contest sponsored by the World Armwrestling Federation in Mesquite, Nev., where about 1,300 athletes from 40 nations took part.
Competitions involve brains and brawn. “It’s about 50 percent strength and 50 percent technique,” Wolfley said.
In an earlier round, Wolfley felt a rib pop. She arm wrestled three more times until she won the top spot in her class, finding out later that the rib was broken.
Now single, Wolfley lived in Preston, Idaho, for six years before moving back to Kearns last fall. She is certified by the American Council on Exercise and works as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym, 3491 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, as well as holding down a second job as a dispatcher at Rescue Alert in South Jordan.
She also finds time to be a facilitator for people who are battling drug or food addictions and to talk to girls about body image.
“My addictions started with body image,” said Wolfley, who was not overweight as a child. “I was scared to death of being obese. I was teased because I was bigger than my friends.”
Wolfley’s father, Harry Bullock, objected to a girl arm wrestling when his daughter was younger, but now he’s her biggest fan. He was there at the world championship to cheer her on.
“Women don’t get near the credit they should,” Bullock said. “This is like the Olympics. It was really something to see.”