Answering a call to arms: Ladies wrestle for charity in Charlottesville and more

In 2007, two women from Charlottesville, Va., jokingly, set out to start their own female arm-wrestling league. And now more than two years later, their idea has grown with leagues in 9 other cities across the country.
By Kris Coronado
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lifting weights can be painfully monotonous . . . up, down, up, down, up, down . . . unless you let your creative whimsy run wild.

It's unclear whether creativity or whimsy was running wilder between exercise pals Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell and Jodie Plaisance that November day in 2007, but what resulted was anything but monotonous.

They invented a fantasy sports league in which outrageously dressed, bawdy femmes challenge each other to arm-wrestling matches. Then they dumped the fantasy part.

"Soon I started asking people, 'Would you join an arm-wrestling league if you could?' " Hoyt Tidwell, 37, says with a laugh. "I was half-kidding."

Look who's laughing now: What began as a joke in a Charlottesville athletic club is unwittingly turning into a girl-power movement. Nine cities -- from New Orleans to Taos, N.M. -- currently have female arm-wrestling leagues in varying degrees of development.

While the battles of the wrist are legitimate smackdowns, competitors aren't the muscly, mulletted Big Berthas you'd expect. They're physicists, hairstylists, sheep shearers and moms, ranging from their 20s to their 50s.

The events meld the tough attitude of Roller Derby with the frivolity of the U.S. Air Guitar League. The women deck out in flamboyant costumes and flamboyant personas, like "Bridezilla," a tenacious pregnant bride abandoned at the altar, and "Stiletto Southpaw," a lethal "Kill Bill"-style vixen (a.k.a. Bree Luck).

"I laugh when I think of her babysitter coming over and she's dressed up in this outfit where she's barely wearing anything," says Hoyt Tidwell. "She's got a sword, a gun and a knife strapped to her!"

Outgrowing its venue

The first league, the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLAW), began in February 2008 at the Blue Moon Diner. Each wrestler arrives with an entourage in tow, including a manager who heckles the crowd for "CLAWbucks" (purchased two for a dollar) that are used to place "bets" on fighters. (The real money winds up with a local charity.) T-shirts are sold, carousing is enjoyed. There's even a house band, Straight Punch to the Crotch.

It wasn't long before the spectacle outgrew the diner's backroom. The first match drew a crowd of 75; the last one in July -- relocated to the parking lot -- had 700. The line wrapped around the block. Neighbors watched the action from their roofs.

"I have sometimes been moved to tears to see what comes of it," says Hoyt Tidwell. "I never expected it."

Hoyt Tidwell is a single mother who writes and directs videos for online commercials and spends a third of her time with the theater company she co-founded, the Performance Exchange Project. Now she's helping women across the nation get their first taste of the arm-wrestling league, as they become inspired through Facebook and a few serendipitous meetings.

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