Hanover nurse flexes her muscles at the championship

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Melanie Kennedy is used to dealing with pressure.

In her daily life, she is a registered nurse at UPMC Hanover. But she is drawing more and more attention to an unexpected extracurricular: the standoff.

“When you go to these events, there aren’t usually a lot of girls,” Kennedy said.

She recently won two medals at a world arm wrestling competition in Florida and said she wanted to bring attention to the male-dominated sport. The disparity between male and female competitors is striking, she said.

But she hopes that will change.

“A lot of women don’t really know the sport,” she said.

That had included her – until her boyfriend, Chad Eckert, of York, introduced her to the sport and persuaded her to do it about two years ago, she said.

People travel all over the country to participate in tournaments. Last month’s event in Florida, the International Arm Wrestling Federation’s World Arm Wrestling Championship, was Kennedy’s fifth competition, she said.

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Eckert, who has competed for about eight years, said about 500 people took part in the event in Florida – of which about 20 to 30 were women.

Chad Eckert and Melanie Kennedy in an arm wrestling competition in Michigan.

“I think a lot of people think of the female arm wrestling – they think of those big, beefy girls,” he said.

Kennedy, who is left-handed, did a standoff with four women on his left arm and placed second. She also placed a third standoff with three other women on her right arm.

She has won multiple medals in the lightweight division at events in Atlantic City, Michigan and Philadelphia. But this success may seem misleading, she said.

Melanie Kennedy vs. Jaclyn Mazzarella at the IFA Armwrestling World Championship in Florida.

The sport is so under the radar, Kennedy said, that it sometimes faces fewer than a handful of competitors. She competes primarily for fun and for experience rather than for a medal, she said.

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Preparing for the sport is also a barrier as other female competitors live hours away, Kennedy said. This means that while Eckert may organize weekly workouts with other male athletes in York County, she needs to train with the guys rather than other women.

There just aren’t enough girls and women participating, even though it’s a fun sport that’s more about technique than muscle, Kennedy said.

Melanie Kennedy flexes with another contender at the IFA World Arm wrestling Championship in Florida.

“You have to really think about what you’re doing too,” she said. “The girls I was going against were far from my league because they had been there for so long.”

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She hopes continuing to play the sport will help other women break the stigma and get going, Kennedy said.

“It’s nice or fun. It’s something different for sure. I mean here I’m 44 and arm wrestling,” she said with a chuckle. “Girls should know about it and get involved more. We need more girls in this sport.”

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