By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
When hands slip out at tournaments, the call goes up to "Get the straps." Roy and I wrestle a few times with our hands tied together, which is easier for novices, since there's less technique. During a break, Marty looks proud. "You did better. Just closing your thumb a little bit can give you that extra tension." I feel a burn in my arm ("Good. The brachialis muscle"), but I've won three pullsbetter than I deserved, since those guys were tired. Still, Marty makes no allowances. "Once a man puts his arm up, once you lock with him, that's that."
After a week's hiatus (Jason and Marty went to Vegas for a "power pull" tournament), the following Thursday finds the tables set up in the driveway. Maybe it was the glare of the streetlights or the Mister Softee truck that distracts us, but tonight there is no prayer. My first pull is against a polite, long-armed amateur named Tony. I work his arm back to about 30 degrees before twisting into a crude inside hook for the pin. That's when my right arm breaks. Crack. The guys form a circle around me and my rubbery arm, flopping uselessly across the table. They try to cheer up Tony, noting his graduation to the ABCs (Arm Breakers' Club), while I woozily assure him that it's okay, it's not his fault. Tony, almost as pale as I am, won't have it. "No, it's very not okay."
Luckily, several of the guys there have previously cracked their bones in competitionone is even in a cast. Craig Saputo, an amateur champ at 150 pounds, sees patiently to my arm, while lefty pro Selearis sits me on a garbage can and the impressive female arm wrestler, Ilya Dall, arrives with a cell phone to dial an ambulance and my wife. Saputo asks Jason to pray for my arm, and they both place their hands on it. "Lord, heal Nate's arm stronger than it was before," says Jason. When the ambulance comes, he thoughtfully brings a bottle of whiskey aboard for shots. "You'll come back stronger," they shout as the doors close. "It's your battle wound. You've got a great story."
Two days later, I see Marty at the Orchard Beach "Golden Arms" tournament in the Bronx. He looks sort of mystified. Turns out no one has ever seen a guy break his arm while winning. I almost feel proud.