The Arm Wrestling Champ
It seems the older we get, the better we were. Or, so it goes in the retelling of memorable achievements of our past anyway. I seldom write first person accounts, but I felt other baby boomers nearing retirement, or already there, could relate to this story.
As I was contemplating what to write about while sitting on the back porch with my customary cup of coffee, I was nursing the aching pain in my right shoulder joint. This prompted memories of when this arm was strong and practically undefeated in the realm of arm wrestling. Thus the idea for this story was born.
However, to look at me now one would never know I was once a vibrant, healthy and extremely physically fit guy. Since before my teens my older brother and I had worked out and exercised regularly. He was my idol then and I wanted to be just like him. As I grew older I even set high school records in several athletic events.
So, I was in good shape long before I signed up with the Marine Corps in the early 1970s. But that only served to improve my physical condition and shed the baby fat. I had also previously served a hitch in the Army. I went in at 142 lbs and came out of boot camp the same weight. Whereas, during Marine Corps boot camp I put on 10 lbs…none of it fat.
In fact, I had missed first place award for the final physical fitness test before graduation by only a few points. There were about 600 participants. My downfall was my pitifully short legs in the three mile run. I was defeated in that event by a long legged, tall drink of water and former cross country runner.
There you have it. I was a stout, strong little cuss in those days. Before signing on with the military, being an arm wrestler came natural to me and I was good at it. This talent followed me into the Corps. No matter where I was stationed it didn’t take long for me to build a reputation as being the one to beat. Being of low pay grade at the time I frequently subsidized my beer drinking with this skill. The loser always had to buy the next round. It was a rare event I ever paid for one.
During a stint on Okinawa, one popular watering hole even made an official arm wrestling table, just like the ones used by professionals, especially for yours truly. They made it because the once-a-week tournament I had inspired brought in more business.
Once I had rose in rank a few grades, I no longer wrestled for beer, but did anyway because it was fun. Then came the day I was honorably discharged back into civilian life. It was in the late 70s and as it is today, good paying jobs were scarce…more specifically, the Fort Smith area in Arkansas, where I eventually moved to help out my grandmother.
I was still a drinker then and once in a while would go into “the big city” after work for a little relaxation. But, during the first visit to my favorite hangout, I was a little short on cash. As you guessed, I threw down the gauntlet, taking on all comers. Surprisingly, there were no immediate takers to the challenge. Perhaps it was the prominently displayed USMC bulldog tattoo which dampened any enthusiasm for participation. Who knows?
But, eventually word spread around the premises there was a short, big mouthed, sawed off little runt claiming he could whip anybody in the joint in an arm wrestling match. Finally, after resigning to the fact the challenge was going to remain unanswered, someone stepped forward.
“I’ll take that bet,” said somebody behind my stool. As I turned to see who it was I found myself staring at someone’s stomach. My eyes slowly covered the distance from his navel to find myself gazing into the eyes of what had to be one of the biggest men I had seen in quite a while. As it so happened the thickly bearded man happened to be from next door in Oklahoma. They grew big, strong, husky farm boys in that neck of the woods. Not the kind of strong one gets by lifting weights, rather the kind of strong gained from years of tossing hay bales and lifting tree trunks.
However, the ever vigilant barkeep barked, “Not in here boys, take it outside.” So, off we trundled out into the cool night air, followed by a crowd, all betting the big guy was “gonna whup my butt.” The big man led me to the hood of his red Ford pickup truck. His name was “Tiny.” Aren’t they all?
Off came our jackets and we clasped our hands getting a good grip and sturdy stance. Tiny’s ham sized hand all but enveloped mine. As big as he was, I had had matches with guys nearly his size before and had won, so I still believed I had a shot of coming out the victor in this one. But, they hadn’t been farm grown Oklahoma boys either and I had no inkling of how strong this man actually was. A bystander acted as referee and put his palm on top of our hands with instructions to begin when he removed his hand.
The match began and ended in a second as his thickly muscled arm dragged me effortlessly across the hood of his truck. I had been beaten fair and square so I bought the fellow his beer. Tiny and I became friends. After all it had just been good natured sport. But, I decided it was time to give up the crown and retired…however, not undefeated. I had been tooting my own horn, which was the size of a tuba, far too long. I kind of avoid telling this story to the grandkids.