Nearly 40 people arm-wrestled Saturday at the Kentucky Strong Arm Classic at the Lexington Lion's Club Bluegrass Fair. Some were amateurs who looked like your typical roofer; others were hulking professionals who looked like they could bench-press your typical roofer.
In the youth group, lanky Taylor Johnson, 14, of Conover, N.C., ambled up to the competition table, her blond ponytail bouncing. Once in place, Taylor squared her thin shoulders and effortlessly slammed down the fist of a larger boy — once, twice, three times. She won first place in her category.
Taylor, it turned out, has been on the arm-wrestling circuit for a year and trains with weights and a skilled opponent. She offered a kind word to her vanquished foe, Tyler Burk, as he rubbed his arm and returned to his seat, still looking surprised.
The Kentucky Strong Arm Classic is the region's only arm-wrestling tournament during July, so it draws enthusiasts from several states, organizers said. Contestants paid $20 to compete, on top of the $5 fair admission. Winners got trophies and bragging rights.
The crowd, many of whom knew each other from past contests, included a number of national award winners, said referee Terry Spine. Internationally, top honors often go to the Russians, but that's not really fair, he added.
"The Russians are munching steroids. We can't compete with that," Spine said. "That's not sour grapes, it's just true.
"But at the same time, they're burned out by the time they're 30, 32, around there, because they've been burning the candle at both ends. We can keep going well after 40."
The official rules of arm wrestling are lengthy, but the basics are: Keep elbows on the table and don't break your grip.
Also, don't lower your shoulder into it. The upper arm's humerus bone is not designed to withstand that level of torque. The bone can snap and rip through the skin. It's not uncommon for serious competitors to display the thick, zippered scar down their arm from a wrestling break.
Brad Spine, 25, the referee's son, competed Saturday as a right-handed pro. An arm wrestler for nine years, he said his workout regimen includes dragging 115 pounds in weights with his wrestling arm.
"I like the competition," Brad Spine said. "It's you against one other person. There's no teammates, no other people involved."
William Gee, 27, of Grayson just happened to be at the fair on Saturday and decided to try his luck at arm wrestling in an amateur category. An autoworker, Gee said, "I stay on my forearms a lot, so I guess that's good practice."
Gee struggled for about 15 seconds into his first contest before prevailing. He easily won his next two matches, letting out a roar the final time and winning a first-place trophy for his group.
"Yeah, I'll do it again," he said.