Sports
White knuckles are an early warning sign of a hernia.
Photo courtesy Greg Sawisky

X-treme sports meet their match

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There are many great aspects to spending so much time on a university campus, including the great opportunities that arise. While 99.9 per cent of students missed this golden occasion, one journalist was able to capture all of the excitement, booze and agony of the EllisDon Arm Wrestling tournament held Sat., Mar. 11 at the University of Calgary.

I was lucky enough to be the participating journalist, and have lived to tell you to get in on the event next year. Some may call me a somewhat scrawny, almost five-foot-ten, 23-year-old who hasn't been to a gym since 2001, so you might wonder why I'd volunteer for such an assignment. While a plausible explanation could be because I'm a good investigative journalist, it's more than likely that I'm just not entirely sensible and had a Saturday to kill.

Because the event was divided into weight categories, I decided to slim down to maximize my chances of success. Unfortunately, I didn't decide to compete until the day before the event, leaving myself little time to drop a few pounds. Albeit less effective than running on a treadmill in a sauna while wearing a suit made of taped together garbage bags, I decided to forgo the all-important breakfast meal and avoid the intake of any liquids before weighing in.

After a last-minute bowel movement and urination, I weighed in at 153.5 pounds. This was plenty light enough to qualify me to compete in the 0-165 pound class; and my efforts to lose weight were pointless. Given the option, I chose to wrestle with my dominant right hand.

Malnourished and thirsty, I could finally feast before the event began. Although my feast didn't involve any food, I did manage to ingest everything I needed to survive the day.

While every muscle fiber in my bicep had been warning me that being sober for the humiliation to come was a grave mistake, I managed to slither away from temptation during my pre-weigh-in fast. However, after sizing up the competition and weighing in, I was ready for a couple of preparation drinks. But as I cracked my second beer at 11:30 a.m., I began to wonder what I was in for.

As the 1 p.m. start time approached, I began wondering why I was sitting alone, drinking beer in preparation for being humiliated in an arm wrestling tournament. I came up with three possibilities: I was sold out by all of my friends because they're wussies; my friends are too sensible to subject themselves to a battle of physique against really strong dudes; or that I don't have any friends. In any case, five beers deep, I was ready for humiliation, but sober enough to dodge disqualification for intoxication at the table--a rule I stumbled upon after it was too late.

In the minutes before my first match, I began to wonder how to prepare. Unfortunately, having never competed in an arm wrestling tournament before, I had no idea. I realized that I had been drinking with my right hand the entire morning as well as typing out this story, so decided that my preparation should include using my left arm to finish my beer and typing like a technologically-uninclined 40-year-old, using a single finger on my left hand.

I arrived in time to watch the referees explain the rules. They were intimidatingly large and the rules very thorough. As a member of the lightest novice weight class, I was in the third match-up of the afternoon. This gave me very few examples to base my arm wrestling style upon. Fraser Benoit, a referee, the president of the Alberta Arm Wrestling Association and eventual winner of the men's open left handed 177-199 pound class, told me that speed and technique were just as important as strength. This left me three qualities short of standing a chance.

"You're in for an experience," Benoit advised me before competition began. "Either you get to like the sport or you're not going to like it."

When my name was finally called, I found myself across "the table" from a shorter, but more well built individual who goes by the name Nic Sutyk. He likes to listen to loud music to get pumped up, works out quite a bit and arm wrestles with his friends between tournaments.

Like gentlemen, we shook hands before securely gripping the other's hand. The referees had us make some slight adjustments before giving us the go-ahead. The match ended as quickly as it began, with myself suffering a crippling defeat and blow to the ego.

"It was good to get the confidence up," Sutyk told me after he crushed my few remaining hopes at the table.

The double-elimination style meant that my window for glory, while rapidly shutting, was not yet closed.

My second-round opponent was Arman Lalonde, a 65-year-old EllisDon employee. As we took our grips, I shivered in terror; Lalonde's greater experience and old man strength surely gave him the upper hand. However, as the referee barked the "ready, go" command, my youth allowed me the benefit of a quicker reaction. I managed to get two-thirds of the way to a win before my rippling bicep began to fatigue. I took a couple of deep breaths and absorbed some of the energy radiating from the crowd cheering me on and finished the match off.

The grandeur of the win thrust me into the clouds. I could feel the arm wrestling lifestyle taking hold of me.

"It's part of your life. It has to be. Just like in any other sport," Benoit informed me, adding that just like working to get a wage increase at a regular job, you have to work to improve your arm wrestling skills. "You get out of it what you put in."

The adrenaline pumping through my veins had me shaking until my next match. I was paired with Raj Dhiman, a chemistry student and aspiring World Wrestling Entertainment superstar. I again managed to get ahead early and hang on for the win.

But even the greatest things don't last forever. In fact, they always seem to be over faster. Daniel Clarke, a pool-playing third-year engineering student, defeated me the following round, helping me realize the cold truth: I'm fairly weak.

While I likely won't be dropping out of school to take up arm wrestling full time, the open classes had their fair share of serious contenders. The winner of both the men's open right handed 177-199 and 199+ pound categories, Del Mudryk believes he leads a normal life however. He's an electrician at Pace Technologies, an Edmonton firm that does high-voltage testing.

"You've got to think of how good it feels if you win and how shitty it feels if you lose," he said of his successful strategy.

One individual who knows how good it feels to win is Darrell Belyk, one of the event's organizers. The University of Calgary employee has been arm wrestling for 18 years and seen his fair share of wins, including a world title in 1999.

"When you're at the national and world level, you know you've done something," he explained.

While Belyk still enjoys the sport to no end, he would like to see arm wrestling get some well-deserved credit. While I'm pretty sure a movie about the sport starring the very manly Sylvester Stallone more than qualifies arm wrestling as a world-class sport, Belyk thinks there are still a few more steps to be taken.

"A lot of people think arm wrestling is not a sport at all, but there's a lot of technique they don't know about," he commented, mentioning that, like curling, arm wrestling needs Olympic recognition to make it big. "National and world bodies have talked to the [International Olympic Committee], it's just a question of when. But I think it will be within the next 10 years."

Whether or not you're watching arm wrestling in the Olympics soon, join the next tournament and try it out. You'll be richer for the experience.

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Comments

I think the arm-wrestling sub-culture may be even more intriguing than the Trekkie sub-culture.

Great article Rook!