Lake Sunapee armwrestler heading to world championship in Turkey

Union Leader Correspondent
August 26. 2018 11:17PM
Although he knew he would “get crushed,” Gov. Chris Sununu gave it his best on Sunday against U.S. and world armwrestling champion Cathy Merrill during an event at Dexter's Inn in Sunapee to raise money for Merrill to travel in October to the world championships in Turkey. A southpaw, Sununu was bested by Merrill both left- and right-handed. (John Koziol / Union Leader Correspondent)

SUNAPEE — With a little help from a lot of friends, including Gov. Chris Sununu, Cathy Merrill took a big step Sunday toward making 2018 a lot like 2017, when she won two gold medals — one for each arm — at the premier armwrestling competition in the world.

A native of the Lake Sunapee Region and a full-time bus driver for the Sunapee school district, Merrill, 53, needs $5,000 to be able to travel in October to Antalya, Turkey, to compete in the World Armwrestling Federation’s 40th World Armwrestling Championship.

Last year in Budapest, Hungary, at the 39th World Championship, Merrill became the first woman to win both the left hand and right hand in the Grand Masters class.

A 1982 graduate of Newport Middle-High School where she played softball and basketball, Merrill said armwrestling, which she began doing on a lark, is “big in the U.S., but it’s huge in Europe,” where 100-member teams, some state sponsored, are common.

As she has done since her first appearance at the World Championship in 2015, Merrill has had to raise money to get there, and on Sunday, for another year, the venue was Dexter’s Inn, which hosted a hot-wings contest and featured Merrill taking on all challengers, Sununu among them.

In 2015, Sununu, then a member of the Executive Council, was chosen at random by his colleagues to present Merrill with a proclamation from the council and governor, now U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, in honor of Merrill’s first world titles.

As part of the presentation ceremony, Sununu arm-wrestled Merrill, who recalled that “I was diplomatic then and we did a draw. But not this time.”

True to her word, as soon as Sununu completed his duties as a wing-contest judge, Merrill called him to the armwrestling table and then, with a big smile on her face, demolished him in short order, first with the right hand and then the left, which was a nod to the left-handed governor.

Going into the contest, Sununu was clear that he expected to “get crushed.”

He called Merrill “a great armwrestler, a great friend” and, as she reaps awards in national and international events, also “an incredible representative” for the Granite State.

“She’s got such a big heart,” Sununu said, adding that in Sunday’s matchup with Merrill, “my goal is to not lose so fast that you can’t take a picture of it.” The governor then gamely gave Merrill a challenge until the photographers got their fills.

A mother of three and grandmother of five, Merrill got into armwrestling on the dare of a friend.

As a condition of buying her some fries at the Cornish Fair, the friend dared her to armwrestle him in a competition at the fair. She did and won and also got her fries, which, she remembers to this day, “were awesome fries.”

At the age of 48, Merrill got seriously into armwrestling and currently trains once a week in Manchester with coach Badger Drewes and the other members of the Granite Arms team.

Armwrestling “is all about technique,” not size, said Merrill, who thinks she again has what it takes to bring a pair of gold medals home to New Hampshire from half way around the world.

Winning gives her personal satisfaction, said Merrill, because with very few exceptions, prize purses, even for such accomplished athletes as herself, are quite modest.

But winning for America is even more special, she said.

“Not only am I proud to represent our area and our state, but there’s no feeling in the world to compare with holding the American flag on the podium when our national anthem is played.”

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