- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2011

Amid the sweaty palms, gritted teeth and clenched biceps of the Washington D.C. Lady Arm Wrestlers league, one rule ranks above all others: the one-butt-cheek rule.

A wrestler should keep her feet firmly planted on the floor and her elbow cannot leave the table, but it’s the space between the chair and one’s derriere that determines a fair fight.

“There’s even a butt ref. He’s got a tux and white gloves,” said Andrea Kavanagh, an international ocean-conservation employee by day, but a reigning champ in the ring.

“It’s all about getting out of the gate first — as soon as the ref blows his whistle,” she said. “That, and a twist of the wrist.”

The league is well into its second year and has a fluctuating number of wrestlers depending on the match night. The event schedule also is flexible, but there are usually at least two a year.

Susan Whitney, a founding member and College Park resident, said her husband showed her a newspaper article last February about a similar league in Charlottesville, Va., knowing full well where that would lead. Soon-to-be founders of DCLAW then began chatting on the Facebook page of the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers and discovered there was just as much interest in the Washington area for starting a league.

“The great thing is that all these women are housewives and regular people,” said Phil Yunger, the league’s referee and unofficial coach. “The key, though, is this group does it for charity.”

During the tournament-style matches, bets are made, and the money collected goes to a charity of the wrestling group’s choice, though Ms. Whitney said the goal is to help a nonprofit below the radar.

To date there have been four matches, and the women have raised more than $12,000.

To help entice the audience into parting with their money, the wrestlers adopt alter egos, complete with costumes.

Ms. Whitney, 40, will take the stage as “Nouveau Biche,” wearing a tennis skirt and driving a cardboard Hummer while talking on her cellphone.

“I love the showmanship of it,” she said. “It’s campy, but we’re trying to pull people out of their shells. People put on a costume and say ‘I can do this.’”

The wrestlers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and experience. And they pack a generous helping of creativity and competitive spirit.

On a recent Friday night, a handful of women rehearsed at the Hyattsville-area warehouse of Community Forklift, a consignment and environmentally friendly building-supply shop, for an upcoming match on Saturday.

Standing at least 6 feet tall and wearing a hot pink wig, Kristin Eliason, of Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood, mistakenly revealed that she is ambidextrous, setting off a chorus of groans from the veterans who know what a female wrestler with a strong left hand can do.

“It’s all about female empowerment,” said the 27-year-old Ms. Eliason, a first-time arm wrestler.

Her wig in just part of an outfit that includes suspenders, lots of mesh, and hazardous material symbols for her role as “Eve of Destruction.”

Another woman who embraced the idea was 57-year-old Kitty Stewart, one of the associates at Community Forklift.

She’ll be taking the stage as “Motown Mamma,” complete with black wig, fake tattoos and high heels. During rehearsal, the cheers from fellow Forklift employees show she’ll be a crowd favorite.

“I’m a mother of four, and my husband always said, ‘Don’t let the boys think they’re stronger than you,’ ” Mrs. Stewart said.

The events are run tournament-style, and until this week’s, which will benefit the supply store, were held at the Kenneth H. Nash Post 8 of the American Legion in Southeast Washington.

Money from a scheduled Dec. 3 event will go toward making the post’s bathrooms handicapped accessible.

The post’s elevated stage allows the crowd of friends and fans the opportunity to get the best view of the women, which is important in determining how to place bets.

Mr. Yunger also got the women a special arm-wrestling table that includes two hand holds and four small cushions for elbows and defeated fists.

“You bring an entourage, and they work the crowd for that particular wrestler,” said Holly Rothrock, also a DCLAW founder. “There are three rounds: the preliminary, semifinal and final rounds.”

Each round is best-two-out-of-three, usually with wrestlers switching from right arm to left arm to right again.

Ms. Kavanagh, who goes by “Amy Smackhouse” when she wrestles said growing up with two older brothers taught her early that being tough was OK.

“This is competition,” said Ms. Kavanagh, a resident of the District’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. “This is theater. And you get to feel good about it, because it’s for charity. You get to feel good about being strong.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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