Nations muscles into arm wrestling
Oregon's most recent national sports champion lives in a renovated school house in Banks, cleans houses for a living and registers a zero on the name recognition meter.
But the exquisitely named Nancy Nations owns a gold medal after claiming the U.S. Arm Wrestling Federation Masters (177 pounds-plus) division title for Masters competitors (40 and over) with the right arm in Anaheim, California, on June 1.
Now Nations, who turns 47 on July 25, is in training for a shot at a title at the World Arm Wrestling Federation Championships in Constanta, Romania, in late October.
"That's what I'm hoping for," said Nations, who will compete in both Masters and Open divisions in Romania.
Nations will compete right-armed in both divisions but left-armed only in Masters after suffering an injury to her left arm in Anaheim, where she nevertheless finished third in the Masters 177-plus division.
That's right. Nations, a natural right-hander, also competes left-armed. She did better from the southpaw side in the 2018 world championships in Antalya, Turkey, last October, earning a bronze medal left-armed in Masters while finishing fifth from the right side.
"I don't know why," she said, "because I feel like I'm stronger right-armed."
The 5-foot-11 Nations is plenty strong from both sides, of course. She's in great shape, too, after cutting from 272 pounds to 215 for the international competition a year ago.
Nations, the youngest of four children, didn't participate in sports while at Aloha High. The mother of a 21-year-old son and a housekeeper by trade since she was 21, Nations didn't get involved in arm wrestling until five years ago.
"I've always been a big, strong woman," Nations said. "At 42, I got a wild hair and decided to see how strong I am. At that age, I wasn't going into mixed martial arts or something that takes a lot of physical workouts. I started looking into arm wrestling."
Nations scanned the internet for a competition in the area. In November 2014, she entered the Washington State Championships, and without any training, won the Open competition. In March 2015, she won again at the Oregon State Championships. Next up were the nationals in Las Vegas.
"I got prepared a little bit," Nations said. "I started lifting weights and watched videos of arm wrestling — I didn't know technique at all."
Despite getting banged up in a car accident the week before nationals, she still drove to Las Vegas with her two chihuahua/rat terrier mixes and entered the Open and the Masters fields.
"I didn't know what I was doing," Nations said. "I lost to two huge women (in the double-elimination competition). Afterward, I sought out both of them, and they said I had potential."
So Nations joined a Portland-area team that practiced arm wrestling once a week. That's all a body can handle.
"Your arms are shot," she said. "You can't even roll over in bed. It's horrible pain."
Nations has never lost a local or regional competition through her five-year career and is ranked No. 1 with both arms in the Open division in the Northwest.
"But when I ventured out of the Northwest and got to bigger competitions, I usually sat around second or third," she said. "There are other women out there who are better than me. So last year, I decided I'd put forth a great effort."
Going into 2018, she had never won a national title.
"In July, I got serious," Nations said. "I decided I was going to get gold at nationals. I was going to do everything I could to make that happen."
Mark Prickett, an arm wrestler and personal trainer, offered to train Nations for free. Three days a week, Nations has joined Pickett at the gym in his garage in West Linn.
"We do arm wrestling-specific strength training," she said. "We do certain exercises to strengthen the forearm and the wrist and the hand. We also do dead lifts and squats."
Combined with weekly team arm-wrestling practice sessions and three days a week of cardio work, Nations was now working out seven days a week. By the time she hit Anaheim on June 1, she was buffed and ready. She won the Masters right-arm crown and finished third in the left-arm Masters competition. She was second in the Open right-arm division but did not compete left-armed in the Open category because of the injury.
"I wanted more golds," she says, "but I'm really happy I walked away with at least one."
By now, Nations is well-schooled in the art of arm wrestling.
"In order to win," she said, "you have to have it all — speed, technique and strength. For sure, you can never be on the table and think, 'I got this.' Never."
And, she says, getting the jump on the opponent "is everything."
There is random drug-testing at the national and world competitions. She's not sure if her rivals from other countries are cheating with performance-enhancing drugs. Competitors from Russian and Sweden have beaten her in the 177-plus Masters right-armed events in each of the last two years.
"If they get caught, they ban the athlete and (those countries) bring someone else in," she said. "I've never used. I'm even weird about pills. I don't like to take stuff."
Nations has had no financial support from the U.S. federation. That's not the case in some European countries.
"Over there, arm wrestling is big," she said. "They're paid athletes. Their life is going to the gym. That's their job. It's a bigger deal that they get that gold. They get bonuses. They go back home after winning and there's a car waiting for them."
Nancy has continued to support herself with housekeeping jobs in the Portland area. She lives in what was formerly a school house in Banks that is owned by her aunt. Her son, Jesse, and Nancy both rent a section of the renovated building. With the help of financial support from friends, family and clients, she has paid her way to the world championships the last two years in Hungary and Turkey. She is hoping to land some corporate sponsorship for her trip to Romania in October.
Nations had never been outside of North America before her trips to Hungary and Turkey.
"I've always wanted to travel the world," she said. "It was like a teenage dream. The travel part (long flights) is absolute torture, but these trips are about having your mind opened to other cultures. Anyone who doesn't venture outside their culture gets stuck in the thought that this is the only thing happening in the world.
"Hungary was fantastic, but I had way more fun in Turkey, because we all stayed at an all-inclusive resort right off the Mediterranean Sea. It had its own clubs, pools, a water park, parties every night, with all food and drinks included. I've never experienced that. The weather was good, and having all of us from 52 countries who love arm wrestling at the same resort — it was the best."
Nations has placed third in the Masters 177-plus division right-arm competition at the world championships two years in a row.
"That was fine the first year," she said. "I made the podium. The second year? Nah. I want to be a world champion. I want to do good in the Open class, too, though that's very hard because of the young competitors."
Nations will compete in Romania right-armed in both the Masters and Open divisions and left-armed in the Masters division. The injury to her left arm has healed, but she wants to be careful not to reinjure it. She'll have one tune-up competition, on July 27 at the Joe Woody Invitational in Myrtle Creek, where she'll compete with both arms in the Open category.
"They have a bounty out for me," she said with a grin.
Nations is getting a $300 appearance fee, but if she somebody beats her, they get $75 of it.
In four years, Nations will be eligible to move up to the Grand Masters (50 years and up) division. She's not sure how long she'll continue competing in arm wrestling.
"But I will never stop going to competitions," she said. "I'm absolutely in love with the people involved."
It's a way of life for her now. And she is a role model for others in the sport.
"I've already helped some younger competitors," she said. "One young girl came up to me at nationals. Her face looked starstruck, and her dad said, 'You're her favorite arm wrestler. She just started arm wrestling herself. Could she have a picture with you?'
"I'm humbled by that. I don't feel like I'm special in any way. I'm just having fun doing what I'm doing. I'm working hard at it, and I want to inspire other women. I don't think that will ever stop."
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