By Phil Corso
Inside a packed pub in Kew Gardens Hills, a rowdy crowd was gripped with excitement as some of the strongest arms in the region locked up for competition.
Sunday’s 35th annual Empire State Arm Wrestling Championships brought more than 100 men and women to the Cheap Shots Sports Bar on Union Turnpike, but only a handful made it out with the strongest titles.
“The Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions is New York City’s oldest and most prestigious sought-after title,” said Gene Camp, founder and president of the New York Arm Wrestling Association. “This event is a culmination of the NYAWA season and it’s very exciting to watch because it’s loaded with top talent locally, from all over the tri-state area and far beyond.”
The competition’s strongest arms overall hailed from as close as Queens Village and as far away as Puerto Rico. The event also served as a fund-raiser for the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief effort, Camp said, with competitors contributing a $25 entry fee and spectators also donating to the cause.
Jason Vale, who was named the men’s strongest right arm, kept his cool and stayed focused on the task at hand as he dominated opponents one after another Sunday. The Queens Village native said he has been training once a week for more than 15 years and has already wrestled his way to championship titles in the past.
On the lefthand side, Richard Calero, of Puerto Rico, shook his opponents’ hands with an ear-to-ear smile after muscling their arms to the table.
“It takes consistent practice, strategy and strength in the hands and wrists,” Calero said of his training and preparation for the tournament. “I have spent years competing with these guys. I’m just happy to be here and continue to share this with them.”
Throughout the day, the tournament celebrated the top-three wrestlers of 17 pro and amateur categories for both men and women. Brooklyn native Oleh Frankivskyy also pounded his way to the title of 2012 New York State Arm Wrestler of the Year.
Jersey City’s Ana Kenah was named the women’s strongest left arm overall and said it was Brooklyn’s Joyce Boone, the strongest arm on the righthand side, who compelled her to compete.
“It really is an interesting subculture for sure,” Kenah said of the arm wrestling community who flooded into Cheap Shots for the tournament. “We do this all over the state.”
Boone was named the New York State MVP overall in last year’s competition and has become a known name ranked among the best arm wrestlers in the world, Camp said. Boone said she first started arm wrestling on a whim before letting the thrill of the fight capture her.
“I just bring my best to every match,” Boone said. “It is a lot of fun because you never know who you’ll come up against next.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.