- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - With a lightning-quick reflex, a thrust of the shoulder and a snap of his wrist, Storm Chellino slams his opponent’s hand to the table.

Then, his hand is the one raised in victory.

It’s that rush of adrenaline, a sign of unmatched strength, that has driven the Scott Township resident in a sport that is quietly gaining a national audience.

Arm wrestling is the latest option for viewers for fans who crave the thrills of competition. Chellino and his fellow grapplers are at the forefront, the lifeline of the World Armwrestling League, a vision of Steve Kaplan that can be seen on ESPN and ESPN2.

“WAL and the sport of arm wrestling is about more than just excellence and fitness,” Kaplan said. “It has captured the wave of participatory sports where through hard work, dedication and drive, everyday Americans enter the Pit and do the extraordinary.

“At WAL it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have - it’s about what you’re made of. Our objective is to take this phenomenon to all corners of the globe.”

“It’s crazy,” Chellino said. “I started before arm wrestling was a sport you rarely heard about. You weren’t making money, in fact, most of the time, you were taking out of pocket just to compete. There are people who are doing things now, marketing-wise, and we are starting to make some prize money. It’s great that we are getting on television and getting this type of exposure. Steve is so intelligent with these things and the marketing.

“He secured some pretty good deals to get us on television.”

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As early as seventh grade, Chellino and his close friend, Cody Schirra, passed through the hallways of Lakeland High School spending their free time making challenges to prospective opponents during the lunch period.

It didn’t matter their size or grade. The more imposing opponent, the better.

Each time, Chellino, who played freshman football, would overwhelm his classmates with a combination of instinct, speed and power.

It became a highlight of the day, and through the years became more impressive.

“I almost never lost,” Chellino said.

While working at the Scott Manor restaurant, Chellino met Mike Osif, an aspiring arm wrestler himself. Soon, the two began training and sharpening their skills.

Through practice, hard work, and research using YouTube, Chellino turned a hobby into a passion.

“It seemed just natural to me,” he said. “I took right to it. I am self-taught on a lot of levels. I studied videos and I practiced a lot.”

He participated in tournaments across the country and around the world. He is ambidextrous, able to compete with either arm, and has conquered foe after foe.

Part of his conditioning includes a grueling weight training workout, building solid abdominal muscles, agility drills and running.

“There is so much more technique than people think,” Chellino said. “There are a lot of different moves, I mean hundreds of variations that can determine the outcome of a match.

“I learned very early that you use your whole body and you really use your core.”

Chellino had risen to the top of the sport and won a Pennsylvania championship before he graduated high school. By 2007, he had turned pro and began to dominate, becoming the No. 1 arm wrestler in North America for the 198-pound weight class.

That still didn’t satisfy his hunger to be the best.

At tournaments, Chellino would compete at all of the higher weight classes including super heavyweight, against much bulkier opponents. Still, he could not be stopped, winning numerous titles and filling his basement with trophies, ribbons and plaques.

In 2012, he completed what is known as the Triple Crown in the sport. He is in the record books as the youngest to have won the USSA National Championship in Hartford, Connecticut, the AAA National title in Indianapolis, and the USAF National Championship at Reno, Nevada.

“Storm has a will and a drive to be No. 1,” said Jason Darienzo, who is a training partner and fellow arm wrestler. “Training with him, you just see that he is always in the gym and working. He prepares both mentally and physically to be the best. This is a sport that a lot of people have no idea what is involved in being successful. It’s not only using your arm.”

Once on top, however, Chellino suffered his first setback.

A shoulder injury while bench pressing proved to be painful enough that he could not work through it and forced him to take a year away to rest. The sacrifice cost him his top ranking, but it made him more determined.

“I want to be No. 1 in the world both left- and right-handed at my weight class and No. 1 in the world with my right hand and my left hand at every weight class,” Chellino, 24, said. “I have already been No. 1 in North America, so it’s time to set higher goals.”

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Hundreds of fans and athletes converge at an arm wrestling competition.

Chellino often sits alone. Sometimes he listens to rock music to get psyched. Sometimes he closes his eyes to more somber sounds and relaxes, conserving his energy. Other times, he simply remains silent, focusing at the task at hand.

His walk to the table is slow and methodical. He has studied his opponent throughout the day and formed a game plan.

After slamming his elbow onto a pad, his grip tightens, his stare pierces his opponent. All that is left is for the referee to release the fury.

His victories can be violent and swift.

“I put myself in a whole other mindset,” Chellino said. “I am really calm at first. I look at it like it’s martial arts. You want to outsmart and overpower your opponent. If you go in there confident, knowing that you already put the time in and are prepared to win, you can be great.

“I don’t care about size. I always try to know my opponents and make a perfect combination of physics, geometry and anatomy. When the referee says go, it’s one of those things that is so awesome. You can’t even describe it.”

It is that experience that keeps Chellino committed.

A graduate of Lackawanna College and Keystone College with a degree in criminal justice, he has a more than full-time job as a lead well testing operator in the natural gas industry that can make balancing his livelihood with travel, training and competing extremely challenging.

Now, with this new endeavor and a television deal that could lead to more rewards - including financial ones - there is no turning back.

“I find the time,” Chellino said. “I would have never guessed in a million years that arm wrestling could get this big.

“This is what I hoped for. This is what I want.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1IR0Ody

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/

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