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The Pen Pusher takes on the Hawaiian Giant

By Stewart McBrideStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 6, 1980

Petaluma, Calif.

Like any good Cub Scout, I learned to play it safe. I look both ways when crossing busy intersections. I never play with matches, and still unplug the toaster before digging out burned raisin bread with my fork. Today, like any reporter who doesn't cover coups and four-alarm fires, I can safely hug the sidelines, watch others stick out their necks, and then write about the ordeals in the news room.

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Until last week I had never risked life or limb in the line of duty. So what I was doing wrist-wrestling that 390-pound Hawaiian named Homer for ABC's "Wide World of Sports" still puzzles me. Anything for a story? As one of the referees whispered to me as I stumbled onstage before several hundred screaming spectators, "Buddy, you gotta be brave or stupid!"

It all started quite innocently a month ago with a newspaper notice for the " 1980 World's Wrist-wrestling Championship" in Petaluma, 30 miles north of San Francisco. It sounded like a classic case of California hyperbole for an event that couldn't draw more than a dozen football players from the local high school. I began to recall my own high school days in Milwaukee, arm-wrestling during woodshop class. The next thing I knew, I was driving north to lay down my $20 entry fee. I figured a few other 198-pound weaklings would show up in Petaluma, but perhaps should have known better the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger's lookalike began his push-ups in front of Petaluma's Veterans Memorial Building.

The entire parking lot was bulging with biceps. Two bruisers were pumping iron (blue barbells, to be precise) inside a Dodge van padded with red crushed velvet. In the hall I joined the line of Popeyes and Olive Oyles weighing in. (There were four men's weight classes, two women's.)

I soon learned this was the 19th annual World's Wrist-wrestling Championship, a contest that attracted over 400 competitors from farm towns throughout the South and Midwest, in addition to national champions from Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.

"Any awards you would like to list?" a woman at the registration table asked the man in front of me. "Yes ma'am, two-time world champion from Davenport, Iowa." (I had won a three-legged race in the third grade at a Scout-a-rama but decided to keep my mouth shut.)

In the glare of ABC's camera lights, I tipped the scales at a dainty 6 ft. 3 in., 213 pounds, a few chili dogs heavier than my former self. The judge smiled. "Son, anything over 200 pounds goes into unlimited heavyweight division. If you're lucky you might get to pull with Cleve Dean." Dean, the defending world champion, is a 6 ft. 8 in., 466-pound hog farmer from Pavo, Ga. I smiled back at the judge as graciously as possible and began pacing the room for someone who could show me how to defend myself against such a Goliath.

"You've come to the right place, but anything I could teach you now is too late." Kevin Hearon, a wiry, lightweight-class wrist-wrestler from Sequim, Wash. , probably knows more about the elementary physics of wrist-wrestling than anyone else on the circuit. There is even an entire style of wrist-wrestling dubbed the "Hearon technique."

My lesson began. "There are three basic techniques," Hearon said. "The oldest is the Woolsey technique, invented by a guy here in Petaluma. Drive your shoulder down to the arm and tackle with your shoulder. The elbow is the midline of the body and you create a miniature fulcrum. Twist with as little resistance and waste of motion as possible.

'The second is the top roll, which utilizes a good hand grip. Anyone is capable of a one-sixteenth-of-a-second reaction time. If you're fast, you'll win. Most guys will use a preload of back pressure.

"The third technique is the 'jerk and fire.' Some call it the Hearon technique, after me. I learned it from watching Donna Meyers on television. She weighed only 110 pounds and was beating women twice her size. The secret is to apply pressure to your opponent's weakness. Go 90 degrees to the direction of his force."

Hearon suggested that while digesting his instructions I join him and a few of his friends for their training meal. Popeye may need spinach, but wrist-wrestlers crave pasta. So six of us ended up shoulder to shoulder at a booth in Denny's, apparently the only restaurant in Petaluma serving spaghetti and meatballs at 11 o'clock in the morning.