Sunapee woman readies for arm wrestling world championships in Turkey

Union Leader Correspondent
September 30. 2018 9:38PM
World arm wrestling champ Cathy Merrill spent a day last week at her home in Sunapee baking apple crisps for friends and neighbors. (DAMIEN FISHER/Union Leader Correspondent)

SUNAPEE — Cathy Merrill spent a day last week baking apple crisps for some of her friends and neighbors, making sure people who needed it were fed and happy.

“Everybody loves my cooking,” she said.

The baking got all done before Merrill, 54, headed off to Manchester to train for the upcoming arm wrestling world championship contest being held in Turkey. Merrill, a school bus driver, is currently the reigning world champion, having brought back two gold medals from last year’s contest held in Hungary.

“Regionally, she has no one that can compete with her,” said Artie “Badger” Drewes, Merrill’s coach and fellow arm wrestling competitor.

Merrill doesn’t take part in any regional contests, known as pulls in the sport. She said too many people in the U.S. in her weight class simply don’t match up to her. She wants to be challenged when she competes.

“If you don’t lose, you can’t get better,” she said.

One of her few losses was at the hands of renowned arm wrestler Grace Anne Case, who is now stepping away from the sport.

“I wish could have pulled more with her,” Merrill said.

Merrill now focuses her arm wrestling on the nationals and the world competitions. Last year in a field of close to 2,000 wrestlers from 64 countries, Merrill secured gold medal wins.

“It’s where you find the best of the best,” she said.

It costs her $5,000 a year to compete.

In August, supporters at Dexter’s Inn hosted a hot-wings contest and featured Merrill taking on all challengers, including the governor, to help her raise money to travel to Turkey.

Merrill currently works as a school bus driver to pay her bills. The children on her bus love her arm wrestling career.

“They say “I see you on the TV. We see you on the front page of the newspaper. Our bus driver is going to be famous,’” she said.

Her young charges aren’t her only fans. Gov. Chris Sununu, who follows the sport, has know Merrill for years, when she first started going to the world competitions.

“Cathy has done an amazing job not just representing our great state, but the whole nation," Sununu said.

Sununu’s even had the chance to compete with Merrill, though he said it wasn’t much of a contest.

“I was doing a lot of pulling, and she probably could have taken a nap,” he said.

Merrill said she doesn’t train much beyond the practices with Granite Arms, though Sununu has heard she trains by cutting firewood and other chores around her house. Merrill downplayed her training regime, saying that’s not how to get good at arm wrestling.

“I love the fact you don’t have to be any specific shape,” she said.

Merrill gets ready for competitions by practicing with Drewes and the other members of the Granite Arms team. The team trains regularly, with dozens of people taking part in instructional pulls, Drewes said.

“We all walk out of here pretty sore and pretty sweaty when we’re done,” Drewes said.

Drewes, 63, is still arm wrestling himself, and will compete in Turkey. He took up the sport after his boxing career stalled out because of injuries He was recovering from a fourth knee surgery when a friend brought in a flyer for an upcoming arm wrestling competition. Drewes went to that first match on crutches and competed. He’s been hooked since.

Merrill enjoys seeing the sport grow through the efforts of Drewes and other members of Granite Arms. There are now children as young as 4 taking part in the practices.

“It’s a family sport,” she said.

Merrill leaves soon for the contests in Turkey. Her first match is set for Oct. 11, and she plans to get there this week to get ready.

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