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Arm-wrestling: That unexpected gem of the north
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Making the move north some five years ago to pursue his teaching career, Gabriel Keresztesi looked forward to partaking in all that this part of the province has to offer: lakes and trails through wilderness areas galore; snow-covered winters and those activities that go hand in hand with the accumulation of the white stuff (notwithstanding the winter of 2023-2024).

Essentially, all that is the great outdoors – and, of course, the sport of arm-wrestling.

Well, that last one maybe not quite so much.

“In my first year of teaching here, a student introduced me to the sport,” said Keresztesi, a wood-working teacher at Espanola High-School. “Prior to that, I had done it just for fun.”

Last Wednesday, Keresztesi assembled with a crew about a dozen strong in his wood-working class, site of the weekly practice sessions for an arm-wrestling team that will be sending a solid delegation into competition this coming weekend as the Sudbury Holiday Inn plays host to the provincial championships on May 17th and 18th.

“He actually introduced me to the idea that there was quite a bit of technique involved, rules that I wasn’t aware of,” added Keresztesi. The ensuing pandemic served as a learning tool for the native of Toronto, locating plenty of on-line videos that provided a base of knowledge, one which has been supplemented nicely by the region’s current authoritative resource on the sport.

“In order to try and provide the correct training, I connected with the Rock City Reapers,” said Keresztesi. “They’ve been a huge help to me.”

Gradually, the Espanola arm-wrestling family has grown, drawing from all sorts of different backgrounds – some familiar with the sport that owes its origins to the male bravado that comes part and parcel of any test of strength, and others completely unfamiliar to this tête-a-tête combat.

“My family used to arm-wrestle a long time ago,” noted high-school freshman Ryder Smith, about to celebrate his 15th birthday this week. “We had some equipment lying around, so me and my buddies would head to the basement and arm-wrestle for fun. From there, it just kept growing and growing.”

Keresztesi would utilize his wood-working class and the keen interest of his students to build the platforms required for on-going workouts – all while sharing his increasing knowledge of the sport.

“The main thing you have to get better at is learning wrist control and hand movement,” said Smith. “Strength means nothing if you can’t find a way to control your strength. It’s about learning what to do with your hand and where to put it.”

That was a lesson that 17 year old Deegan Foucault learned the hard way.

“Ryder is way younger than me and the first time I wrestled him for fun, he smashed me,” recalled the talkative young man who was already a mainstay in the weight-room when arm-wrestling came ‘a calling.

“There’s a lot of pulling involved in arm-wrestling, so you do use a lot of your biceps and chest and back muscles that you’re already building in the gym,” said Foucault. “All you have to do is add in a few forearm workouts on some cables or kettle balls – and some workouts with the wrists to help with your top-roll.”

Yet one and all seem to agree that the greatest teaching of all in this sport comes courtesy of taking to the table and going toe to toe with opponents, over and over and over again.

“When someone is just starting to arm-wrestle, I would say just purely arm-wrestle,” said Smith. “The gym is nice to have when you don’t have someone to arm-wrestle.”

“One of the things I love about the sport is that every time that you do it, win or lose, you’re getting stronger,” said Keresztesi.

And that, apparently, has wide-spread appeal.

Fourteen year-old multi-sport grade nine talent Abby Hannah integrated both track practice and a little arm-wrestling into a busy post-school schedule last week – not that being active is anything new to this young woman.

“I’ve been told, since I was a little girl, that I’ve always been strong,” noted Hannah. “I think it is a little bit of natural strength – and I grew up on a farm – well, my grandpa has a farm. For some reason, I was interested in arm-wrestling with the boys. When I first heard about it, I figured that there would only be boys there, so I thought I would go.”

Where Hannah can unleash her competitive instincts in a variety of different athletic pursuits, there is something different that arm-wrestling can provide as a takeaway. “I approach this more as something that is really fun to do rather than something I have to be really competitive in,” she said.

“Especially if I am going up against a lot of the guys that are stronger than me.”

Jamal Southwind is yet another newcomer to the team for whom there are at least some historic ties to the sport. “I think I am the second one in my family; I heard my dad has been arm-wrestling for some time now,” said the just-recently turned 16 year-old. “I never really got into it – I was more of an outside type of kid.”

“From where I started, I have learned a lot. I’m good in some areas, but I’ve been working on my top-roll and learning to hook.”

Part of the excitement in the room comes part and parcel of the upcoming competition, a first for the majority who will participate – and a chance to show the progress that has been made in a relatively short amount of time.

“What I’ve noticed is that they start getting good quickly,” suggested Keresztesi.

“But no matter how good you are, there’s always somebody better than you,” added Foucault with a smile. It’s a mindset that he will take in to each and every match this weekend.

“Winning or losing, I know it will be awesome because I’m there getting some training and seeing everybody else, learning techniques and stuff. Everyone is super helpful with their techniques. Nobody gate-keeps their stuff.”

It’s a notion that Keresztesi has become intimately familiar with as he welcomes more and more teens to his group. “For us, it’s all about the enthusiasm and willingness to come out and train,” he said.

The great outdoors will still be there to enjoy tomorrow.

The Espanola High-School Arm-Wrestling team includes the following athletes and fans of the sport: Floyd Eslit, Ryder Smith, Deegan Foucault, Aiden Taylor, Abby Hannah, Journey Southwind, Jamal Southwind, Noah Kay, Matthew Seel, Tye Kust and Samara Shay.

Palladino Subaru