Bits 'n' Pieces: Arm wrestler to compete for world title

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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Nearly everyone has challenged someone to an arm wresting match at least once. But few can claim to represent their country in the hand-to-hand sport. Hockinson resident Josh McEllrath qualified for a spot on Team USA to compete at the World Armwrestling Championship in September, held in Lithuania's capital city of Vilnius.

In June, McEllrath competed for the first time at the United States Armwrestling Federation Unified National Championships in Reno, Nev. He placed first for his left arm and second for his right arm in the 242-pound weight class, winning a national title along with gold and silver medals. The top two finishers in each class are invited to join Team USA and compete at the eight-day world tournament.

McEllrath entered the world of arm wrestling by accident. "There was tournament at a bar in Longview," he said. "I entered on a bet and ended up winning."

Competing as a professional for the past five years, McEllrath regularly trains with local arm-wrestlers while traveling to tournaments across the western states two or three times a month.

"It's a pretty underground sport, a lot like MMA before it got big," he said.

McEllrath competes using both arms, because it gives him more chances to compete at tournaments, since many operate on a double-elimination rules.

"I had a lifting background, so I when I first started, I knew I was strong, which led me to want to muscle everything," he said, "but I ended up getting beat quite a bit, because I was trying to rely on brute strength over technique."

The 36-year-old is right-hand dominant, so he had to train his left hand to compete.

"To compare the two is like apples and oranges, but when you are dominant in one hand, it's like you have to unlearn things to make it stronger," he said.

The result is that his left hand is far more technically skilled, but his right hand still has more strength behind it.

When facing an opponent, there's only so much strategy you can employ, he said.

"In the age of the Internet and Facebook, no one can keep a secret. You hear about moves (opponents) prefer, moves they can't stop, but it isn't until that second you grip someone's hands," McEllrath said. "You can read a lot about what someone's going to do by how they hold their hand, their eyes, and the direction of the pressure." That's why the best way to train, he says, is by constantly testing his skills against other arm wrestlers.

"It's such a great group of competitors and friends," McEllrath said, "once you have the in, it's just a huge family."

Along with talking to businesses about sponsorship, McEllrath has set up a GoFundMe page for help with travel expenses to Lithuania: www.gofundme.com/bqo83k .

"The money comes and goes, but once you have a title, they can't take that away from you," he said.


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.