Arm wrestling is about more than muscles, 1 family’s focus

ST. GEORGE — The Kirby family of Southern Utah is strong on arm wrestling  – so strong they organized Southern Utah Arm Wrestling, which hosted a national finals qualifying arm wrestling tournament Saturday at the Firehouse Bar and Grill,  1476 W. Sunset Blvd. in St. George.

Southern Utah Arm Wrestling held a tournament at Firehouse Bar and Grill Saturday afternoon. The top three competitors from each division advanced to the national tournament to be held in Las Vegas Dec. 10. St. George, Utah, Aug 27, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
L-R arm wrestlers: Jay Griff, Jeremiah Francis. Southern Utah Arm Wrestling held a tournament at Firehouse Bar and Grill Saturday afternoon. The top three competitors from each division advanced to the national tournament to be held in Las Vegas Dec. 10. St. George, Utah, Aug 27, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

National qualifier

The competition at the tournament was fierce, with competitors from Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, and California vying for a chance to advance to the national final tournament in Las Vegas. The tournament was broken down into women’s and men’s divisions and was further categorized into weight classes ranging from under 139 pounds up to 231 pounds and over.

The top three competitors from each weight class advance to the national tournament. Approximately 25 men and women competed in the event.

Jeff and Summer Kirby, a married couple from Toquerville, organized the event.

“We are the Utah state directors for a few different arm wrestling organizations,” Jeff Kirby said. “We held a tournament here today, a qualifier for PAL USA — Professional Arm Wrestling League — this was a qualifier for the final nationals in Vegas December 10th.”

Southern Utah Arm Wrestling held a tournament at Firehouse Bar and Grill Saturday afternoon. The top three competitors from each division advanced to the national tournament to be held in Las Vegas Dec. 10. St. George, Utah, Aug 27, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
On left is Summer Kirby, co-founder of the Southern Utah Arm Wrestling organization that held a tournament at Firehouse Bar and Grill Saturday afternoon. The top three competitors from each division advanced to the national tournament to be held in Las Vegas Dec. 10. St. George, Utah, Aug 27, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

The tournament was formatted as a double-elimination competition, meaning that each of the contestants had the chance to advance through the event as long as they only had one or two losses. The tournament also had left- and right-hand categories, which allowed for some competitors to have more than one opportunity to medal.

“I mean I highly agree with that (double-elimination bracketing) because with arm wrestling sometimes it’s so fast, you could get a loss right off the bat and that still gives you a chance to come back and take first,” Jeff Kirby said.

The two main groups competing were from Southern Utah and Las Vegas, but there was also a trio of competitors from Bulgaria. Jeff Kirby said that in countries like Bulgaria and Russia, the government will pay for their athletes to compete in the United States.

“The U.S. doesn’t even recognize it as a sport,” he said. “When you watch it at a tournament, especially at a world level, you realize ‘wow, it’s definitely a sport.'”

Arm-wrestling with family in focus

Jeff Kirby said he began arm wrestling in 2001, but the responsibilities that came with marriage and parenthood caused him to temporarily leave it behind. However, after a hiatus of a few years, he began looking at arm wrestling sites on the internet, and Summer Kirby suggested he take it up again.

“I found a tournament, it was the Utah Summer Games,” he said, “and my son and I competed and the next year my wife, my son and I competed. Now we have my wife, myself and our children — we’ve had three different children compete.”

Every member of the Kirby family has won a state championship.

Summer Kirby is one of the top competitors in the state and the nation. She is a two-time national champion.

L-R Gage Baresco, 11, Jeff Kirby, and Ian Burge, 11. Baresco and Burge arm wrestle while Kirby referee's at an assembly held at Bloomington Elementary School to promote arm wrestling as a sport in the Utah Summer Games, St. George, Utah, April 4, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
This April 2014 photo shows Jeff Kirby, center, at an aseembly at Bloomington Elementary School in St. George Gage Baresco, then 11, on the left,  Jeff Kirby, and Ian Burge, then 11 on the right trying their hands at arm wrestling. The assembly sought to promote arm wrestling as a sport in the Utah Summer Games.  St. George, Utah, April 4, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Both Summer and Jeff Kirby emphasized that arm wrestling — despite its image as a sport that takes place in bars and playgrounds — is a competition that requires intelligence, speed and technique. In fact, Jeff Kirby said, it is often not the strongest competitor who wins the match but the smartest.

“There’s a lot of technique to arm wrestling, I call it the three S’s: speed, strength and skill,” Jeff Kirby said. “When you have those three elements and apply them, then you’ll get good. It’s almost like a chess match.”

Summer Kirby said it is a common misunderstanding that arm wrestling is primarily about arm strength. Whenever people express interest in the sport, they automatically assume they aren’t strong enough to be competitive.

“The first thing they’ll say is I’ll lose or I’m weak but you know, it’s funny, it’s not about muscles; there’s strength involved, yes, but a lot of times it’s about smarts, it’s about technique, it’s about how you climb your fingers, it’s where you place you elbow,” she said.

 

“You use your full body too,” Summer Kirby said. “People think it’s just your arm; no, you’re putting your full body into this. It’s a mental game too.”

Despite the tournament being held at an over-21 venue this time around, the Kirbys emphasized that they prefer to hold competitions (and all of their practices) in a family-friendly space.

“Most of our tournaments and practices are all-age,” Summer Kirby said.

Jeff Kirby said that with the strong religious influence of the Southern Utah community, it was important for them to keep the events a fun, clean family environment.

“Our whole purpose as the Kirbys is to glorify God,” he said. “Without that, we probably wouldn’t do this.”

Those interested in arm wrestling can call Jeff or Summer Kirby at telephone 435-772 6380.

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Email: dgilman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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