Keeping Petaluma wristwrestling alive

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Petaluma, the home of the original World’s Wristwrestling Championships, has a new champion. Although the sport is now called arm wrestling, Luke Kindt is one of the best in the United States at the mano-y-mano challenge of strength, endurance, fortitude and strategy.

Kindt grew up hearing stories about the legendary heroes of the event that Bill Soberanes and Dave Devoto brought to national attention (with a huge assist from ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports) as the World’s Wristwrestling Championships.

“One of my friend’s dad always bragged about wristwrestling the best in the world,” Kindt recalled. “Me and my friends began to test one another. We would arm wrestle every where — on benches, tables, cars, garbage cans. We would take on anyone who would give us a match.”

Kindt now competes on national television using the most sophisticated equipment available in what has become an increasingly technical sport. In the recently completed season, he was paired against some of the best in the country as he muscled his way to the semifinals of the ESPN-televised “World Arm Wrestling League.”

Kindt gained national attention the year before when he won the Game of Arms competition on AMC, defeating the legendary Allen Fisher in the process.

“That was the craziest thing that ever happened to me,” he said.

The diesel mechanic competes in the lightweight (up to 165 pounds) weight class, one of four divisions in the competition that begins on the local level and continues on to one of three regionals with only 18 competitors in each weight class reaching the championships.

He has come a long way since he competed in his first tournament — the final World Wristwrestling Championships ever held in Petaluma — in 2001.

Not that it has been easy. Strength is important, but technique also counts and Kindt is constantly working to improve both. He trains five days a week in a gym to improve his strength and does specific arm wrestling exercises designed to develop his hand and wrists. Twice a week his training includes actual arm wrestling.

Kindt says arm wrestling is “basically the same thing as wristwristling,” although there have been a few changes. No longer do competitors grasp free hands. Now, they each grab a peg and, recently, the pads where they place the elbows of their wrestling arms have been offset a bit. It makes for cleaner and swifter competition,” Kindt said.

Kindt and his fellow elite arm wrestlers have benefited financially by ESPN’s involvement in the sport. “Before the League we might make $500 to $1,000 for a match,” he explained. “Now the champion makes $20,000.” But the money, while welcome, is not really why Kindt arm wrestles.

“It is man-on-man competition,” he explained. And, there is still the satisfaction of being the best.”

“I don’t lose very often, even when I go against guys that are significantly bigger than me,” he said matter of factly, noting that he has beaten 300 pounders that are almost twice his size,

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this sport. I’m as strong as I have ever been,” the 32-year-old said. “It would be a waste of my life to give up now.”

Kindt competes with both his right and left hand, and has been successful with both, finishing second with both his right and left in the WAL Regionals, but he acknowledges his right arm is better than the south side.

“The right arm is definitely more dominant,” he explained. “My left arm is strong, but it is not on the same level as my right.” Always an outstanding athlete, Kindt never took school seriously enough to have the grades to play high school sports and eventually dropped out of school.

He credits arm wrestling with giving him purpose in life, He has pursued it with a passion that has taken him to national recognition.

Among his favorite activities when he isn’t preparing for arm wresting competition is racing his Chevelle.

Last season’s WAL matches, along with a segment on his background biography, are still being re-played on ESPN. For a schedule and more information on the WAL, visit the web site at walunderground.com.

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