The best women’s arm wrestler in the world isn’t someone who hits the weights every day or grinds out non-stop practice reps. It’s Cathy Merrill, a sweet 54-year-old grandmother and school bus driver from New Hampshire.
Later this month, Merrill will be defending her world arm wrestling title in Turkey. To bet against her taking home gold again would be like doubting Michael Jordan with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
Merrill has more than 100 wins under her belt in the U.S., and just two losses. She has 12 national medals to her name, and at the 2017 World Arm Wrestling Championship in Hungary, where she was one of 2,000 athletes, competed in four classes (Woman’s Grand Masters Left ages 50+, Woman’s Grand Masters Right ages 50+, Women’s Senior Open Class Left ages 21-90 and Women’s Senior Open Class Right ages 21-90), and brought home two gold medals.
“You’re never going to find someone with a bigger heart or a bigger bicep, frankly,” New Hamshipre governor and personal friend, Chris Sununu, told Valley News.
She got her start in the sport at 43 years old when she and friend Jim Duling attended the local fair. Duling encouraged her to enter the arm-wrestling contest thinking she’d win. He even said he’d buy her fries if she came out on top. Not only did she win, but she didn’t it in impressive fashion.
“The very first person was the lady who won the Vermont State Fair. They went, ‘Ready. Go!’ And I just went like this,’’ Merrill told the Boston Globe, pantomiming a quick hands-down victory. “There was dead silence. And I said, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ And they went: ‘Winner! Cathy Merrill!’”
Ever since, it’s taken her between two and 15 seconds to beat her opponents.
At 6 feet tall and 340 pounds, one might assume that Merrill wins simply because of her size. However, arm-wrestling is as much about technique as it is about anything else.
A native to New Hampshire, she played basketball and softball growing up, but her childhood was surrounded by abuse, divorce and alcoholism.
She went on to work blue-collar jobs and raise three children, who are now adults. As an empty nester, arm-wrestling has brought true joy to her life between competing, traveling and meeting new friends in her beloved sport. Of course, winning on the international stage is a big cherry on top, too.
“When I’m on that podium, the first place box, and I’ve got our American flag stretched out in front of me, you can’t stop the tears,” Merrill told NBC10 Boston. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
How’s that for proof that athletes come in all shapes, sizes and colors?