Pint-size arm wrestler headed to nationals

In this arms race, big guns no match for state champ

Cheryl Frisbie-Harper's right arm looks innocent enough.

It hangs straight and lean at her side, in perfect proportion to her 5-foot-6-inch, 115-pound body. It isn't long. It isn't bulky.

And it certainly doesn't look like it belongs to a champion arm wrestler.

"That's the really cool part," Frisbie-Harper said. "Because the ones who haven't wrestled me before totally underestimate me. So I've got the element of surprise."

After winning the women's state title in September at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, Frisbie-Harper will compete Saturday in the national arm wrestling championship at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix.

She started arm wrestling as a Kansas University freshman in 1982, when some friends dared her to take part in a competition at an old Lawrence bar.

"I kept kicking all of these big women's butts," she said. "And it was really fun."

She's been wrangling wrists to the table ever since. In 20-plus years of competition, Frisbie-Harper has amassed three world titles, five national titles and more than 80 trophies. The tournaments in which she competes aren't high-stakes -- there are usually only about 10 people who enter, and winners take home a trophy and a jacket -- but they are a lot of fun, she said.

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Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Cheryl Frisbie-Harper, the Kansas state champion women's lightweight arm wrestler, will compete Saturday at the national championship in Phoenix. She also arm wrestles at Rick's Place, 846 Ill., for fun and beers.

"The national competition is like a big family reunion every year," she said. "You get to see the same women who compete each time and catch up with them. We're all friends, except for when we are competing."

Last year, she broke an opponent's wrist at a competition in Bonner Springs.

"But I was the first one to go and get her an ice bag," Frisbie-Harper said.

Friends say that only people who haven't spent much time with Frisbie-Harper would be surprised by how well she arm wrestles.

"She is so focused in everything she does," said former co-worker Chris Kaplan. "She's a tough little babe."

Frisbie-Harper says it's her forearms that are the secret to her success. A childhood spent baling hay at a Grantville farm made them wiry, and she has maintained that strength doing work as a sculptor and sign-maker since college.

When she isn't at an organized competition, she hones her craft at Lawrence bars, sometimes arm wrestling patrons for beers. Her most recent state champion trophy is on display at Rick's Place, 846 Ill., where many unsuspecting fraternity boys have watched in awe as Frisbie-Harper slowly pinned their arms. On a few occasions, male arm wrestlers have made a scene after losing to Frisbie-Harper.

"She doesn't want to irritate people and she doesn't usually throw herself out there," said Rick's regular Rebecca Moeller. "But she likes it as a sport, and she's very good at it. So she wins."

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