- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

ARCOLA, Ill. (AP) - Writer Damon Runyon, who is said to have remarked, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet,” clearly never met many arm wrestlers.

Experts in the sport, such as Nick Brown, who lives near Arcola, say you can never judge a killer wrestler by how strong his arms look. Brown, who is the World Armwrestling League left-handed heavyweight Illinois state champion, does certainly looks the part: At 6-foot-4 and weighing 225 pounds in competition trim, he has arms that appear capable of jacking up your family car.

“Iron workers are some of the toughest opponents I’ve come across,” says Brown, 34, who paints and installs drywall for a living. “I lost once to a 160-pound iron worker who was half my size and had to get on a step stool just to get to the table. It’s not about what you look like, it’s about technique and how much effort and hard work you are putting in.”

Arm wrestling has gone from a kind of backroom bar activity, highlighted in the 1987 Sylvester Stallone movie “Over the Top,” to a major sport catching the attention of ESPN.

You can get a taste of the action in Arthur on Feb. 25 when Brown and his wife, Tarah, are hosting a World League “Illinois Qualifier,” which is expected to attract at least 50 of the nation’s top arm wrestlers, plus one international competitor who is flying in from the nation of Georgia.

The top two finishers here, and Brown plans to be one, need to notch up another top-two finish in another qualifying event, and that will open them a path to the World League World Championships in Las Vegas in the summer.

“That’s our goal,” Tarah says. “He plans to be there and he will; he’s naturally gifted at this sport.”

She’s backing him all the way and is happy to indulge her own gifts at organization to help hubby host the local tournament. He was just getting out of mixed martial arts competitive fighting when she met him and now, as the father of kids ages 13, 7, 5 and 1, she’s glad he isn’t exposing himself to caged match punishment anymore.

“But he is one of those people who needs to compete, and I recognize that,” his wife says. “I encouraged him and said, ‘What do you think about getting back into wrestling? He started again this past summer, and it’s just worked out well.

“I also like that it’s a family-friendly sport and these guys bring along their kids and their wives.”

Her husband had first tried arm wrestling back in high school in Pana after being introduced by a teacher who actually appeared in the background competition shots of the Stallone movie.

“My teacher showed us some stuff, and I ended up beating everybody in school, including all the teachers,” Brown says. “It was just something that came natural to me.”

For six years, he went on to ace every event he entered but got kind of bored with it because he says the sport wasn’t as well-developed as it is now, and there were fewer places to go with it.

“Now, it’s much better known and the WAL involvement has opened doors and there’s a lot more excitement about it,” Brown says. “We have tournaments today where you can compete with the world’s best. I like to arm wrestle just for the joy of competition; you only get one life and you might as well try and see what you can do with it.”

He says winning does involve a high degree of muscular strength but insists having solid technique and strong fingers and tendons often makes the difference: Brown can compress a 450-pound spring with his fingertips, for example.

He also likes arm wrestling because he says the older you get, the better you get, and the competition life of an arm wrestler can stretch well past the age when they qualify for the senior discount at restaurants.

“You are never really over the hill,” he says. “Gosh, I remember one guy who was 68, and I couldn’t budge him. He weighed about 170 pounds, and he was like, ‘Let’s see what you got, big boy,’ and he just annihilated me.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald and Review, https://bit.ly/2iXxVup

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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