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Joe is a strong man

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Medford resident Joe Strong recently started the Rogue Valley Armwrestling Club, and he’s looking for competition
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneK.C. Merk, center, helps strap Joe Strong, right, and James Fahring's hands together for arm wrestling practice at Strong's Medford home.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneK.C. Merk and Joe Strong, left, practice arm wrestling each other in Strong's Medford garage.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJoe Strong trains for arm wrestling in his Medford garage.

MEDFORD — Ever since he was a little kid in Salinas, California, arm wrestling his larger-than-life uncle on his grandmother’s kitchen floor or at her dinner table, Medford resident Joe Strong has had a hankering for a little healthy competition.

After losing his father to suicide when he was just 8 years old, Strong would find a sort of comfort in the sport that his dad and uncles enjoyed together.

Hoping to find other fans of the sport, and maybe some fresh competition, Strong recently helped spearhead the Rogue Valley Armwrestling Club.

Strong grew up working on a horse and cattle ranch, and he was adept at rodeo team roping and steer wrestling before he was old enough to drive.

“My earliest memories involve arm wrestling. My dad died when I was only 8 years old and, right around that time, my dad’s youngest brother and I would lay on my Gramma’s floor and he’d show me different techniques of arm wrestling,” Strong said.

“Our gramma was a huge 49ers fan. We used to even get season tickets but, whenever we didn’t actually go the game, we’d sit around while the game was on TV and arm wrestle on Gramma’s floor. My uncle, who was like a father to me, used to talk big and I’d try to take him on. My aunt was super short. She could beat me until I was like 14, then I started beating her. Finally, I’d challenge my uncle, who’s 6-2, 280 pounds. All my cousins would spur it on. He was old as hell and still a giant dude with big ol’ catcher’s-mitt type hands.”

Eventually, Strong, who works as a jobs coach for Living Opportunities by day, said he worked his way up and — catching his uncle on a bad day — finally won a match. He admits, “Yeah, I had to catch him when he wasn’t feeling the greatest, but I still did it.”

As he got older, he paired off with fellow arm-wrestling buffs on school grounds or in friends’ backyards whenever he had the chance. He was, for sure, “that kid” who watched Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 “Over The Top” at least 100 times.

It’s coincidental his last name is Strong, he jokes. But really, it’s not.

Moving to the Rogue Valley a half-dozen years ago, an unexpected twist of fate lured him back to his favorite sport when he saw a promotion for an arm-wrestling tournament in Myrtle Creek.

The event was slated to promote suicide prevention.

“I saw that and I said, ‘I’m doing that.” It was like the universe was going to shine a light down through the clouds right onto the arm-wrestling table. Something I loved and a way to honor my dad,” he remembers.

It’s a regular event every year now, and Strong is hoping to help build the sport and find others who enjoy it as much as he does.

“I found out pretty fast that these guys … were pretty darned good. I got third place in the left hand in amateur division that day, but it was like catching a fish when you’re out on the water. It hooked me right back in,” he said.

“I built my own arm-wrestling table and started looking for other people who enjoy it as much as I do.”

Joe Meek, a friend and fellow arm-wrestler in Grants Pass, said he was excited to see the club grow. Like Strong, he hopes to find more arm-wrestlers to match up with. An arm-wrestler since the 1990s, Meek got his start in Klamath Falls, honing his skills with renowned strongmen.

“I was gearing down from power lifting and wanted to stay competitive. When I moved here during the transition, I found an app called Armbet, invented by one of the best arm-wrestles, Devon Larratt,” Meek said.

“Through that, you find people in your area who also use the app and want to meet up and arm-wrestle. That was how I found Joe. We’ve been meeting up on a weekly basis since we met.”

Meek said the sport of arm-wrestling has evolved from a darker past to fun competition.

“It’s gone through kind of a transition like billiards. It was big back in the day with bars and hustlers. It would cause fights in bars. People would even get kicked out. It’s turned into more of a family-friendly sport. Families and kids are playing and you’re seeing it on social media and YouTube,” he added.

“It’s fun for us old-timers to get in touch and learn new tricks. As you get older, you want to stay involved in something competitive. There are still a lot of guys in their 40s, 50, even 70s, that still pull at Worlds every year. It’s like they say, ‘A body in motion is more likely to stay in motion.’”

Ranked in the super heavyweight division — currently No. 4 in Oregon — Strong said he and Meek hope to host some tournaments and fun events, but mostly just some weekly hangouts.

He figures there are some old-time arm-wrestling buffs who got their start in their gramma’s dusty living rooms or on playgrounds, like he did.

Fellow arm-wrestlers, he noted, come in all sizes, big and small.

“I’m a big ol’ guy with a belly, diabetic. I’ve been doing this stuff forever. That’s what’s fun. They pair you up based on size, so anybody, any size, any skill, can do it. Big guys. Little guys. Ladies. Kids,” he said.

“We live in logger central. There are lots of loggers, truckers, lumber guys, lot of strong dudes. The jobs they do is so physical. We’re hoping they’ll find out about us and want to come try it out.”

Strong added, “I go to the gyms and I’m always on the lookout. Basically, I don’t care what size you are. If you’re a bad ass, come see me … because I wanna know about it.”

To contact Strong, email him strongster01@icloud.com. For information

To connect via Facebook, see www.facebook.com/groups/1457935664417312

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.