Thursday, November 3

strong arm

Apparently, my body has decided now is a prime opportunity to get all sorts of toxins out, and yesterday morning I found white spots on my tonsil. So, here I sit, writing with about half a brain cell. The other cells are too busy contemplating the meaning of their own existence, and are taking a sick day.

But like so many other times when I think I've finally reached the end of my material, something comes along just in time. Today it came via Netflix, in the form of a documentary on professional arm wrestling. Turns out, until just a few years ago, a quiet and unimposing American by the name of John Brzenk was the undefeated world champion in his middleweight class, and known for beating heavyweight champions as well.

The film follows Brzenk and his two most serious, and much younger competitors, Alexy Voevoda from Russia, and Travis Bagent from West Virginia. I'm not surprised to see top level competition coming out of Russia, a country that produces top athletes like a college education produces debt. But I had no idea my very own country dominated in the sport of arm to arm combat.

I'm rather surprised I actually watched the documentary at all. Just this week, after my first lesson in disc golf, I was reminded what little interest I generally have in sports requiring heavy arm use. I avoid volleyball like the plague and the only thing I find interesting about golf is the carts. I've been known to challenge guys to arm wrestle, and I can put up a good fight, but the average man usually beats me; or lets me win.

A few minutes into the film, I'd completely forgotten how silly I think arm wrestling, and weight training in general. I was nearly holding my breath with each match. I felt like I knew these three men, and I was developing definite preferences. 

After my second vaulting class last week in over a year, I was barely able to reach my right arm behind my back because it was so sore. My arm is stronger than average, but definitely not used to lifting my body weight onto a moving horse. After several attempts, we decided to call it a day.

"It has to be in the jump and strength of my legs," I brainstormed with the coaches, "I can't afford to over-use my arm." But the next few days reminded me that it doesn't take much.

The interesting thing about arm wrestling is how an athlete's whole worth is determined by the strength of one arm. It all comes down to that one body part. Although, watching the difference in demeanor of the strong men, it becomes clear that, as with anything, physical strength is just the part you see. Bagent was louder, more of a showman, using verbal intimidation. But Brzenk was quiet, reminding you of the boy next door, and Voevoda seemed an intuitive, Taoist fable-quoting, gentle giant.

Strong-arming it
In the end, Brzenk, at the age of forty, once again defeated all his middleweight competition. And although Bagent had previously defeated Voevoda in the heavyweight class, Voevoda reclaimed his title. So it came down to the final match between Brzenk and Voevoda.

I was nervous, focused as I could be while drugged with cold medicine. The first go was a bust because their hands slipped. But on the second try, Voevoda pulled Brzenk from his long-held rank to become the undefeated world champion. 

As much as I liked Brzenk's unassuming demeaner, and I liked him a lot considering I'd never even heard his name before, I was happy for Voevoda, because just being Russian can't be easy. And apparently, the ladies aren't that impressed with physical prowess: "The Russian women, they want money," Voevoda says shyly.

Trivia tidbit: Bagent's father, a strong man in his own right, said he was first inspired to begin arm wrestling by a man who only had one arm, the other having been amputated, or "cut off" as he put it. But I don't think I'll train for the sport, because even though I may have an edge, it seems a little masochistic when you don't really have an arm to spare.

But I am going to keep trying to get up on that horse, and I certainly have more respect for arm wrestling. I have to admit, I hold to a paradoxical double standard:

I like men with strong arms.