LiErin Wilson said she always wanted to be the best in the world at something.
The Durangoan recently competed at the International Federation of Armwrestling world championships in Dieppe, France. Wilson didn’t bring home one gold medal, however, she brought home two. Wilson won gold with both her left and right hands at 63 kilograms in the senior open division, the most competitive division. Since arm-wrestling isn’t in the Olympics, the world championships are the pinnacle of the sport.
“It was emotional. That was my sole goal in life,” she said. “I wanted those medals so bad.”
In the finals with her left hand on Sept. 30, she had a rematch with Roxana Poenar of Romania. Wilson beat her earlier in the double-elimination bracket, but Poenar battled back to reach the championship.
“I pulled her previously and beat her, then she came through the B-side,” Wilson said. “I was thinking it would be easy.”
Poenar, however, did something unexpected in the final bout and Wilson’s elbow came off the pad, resulting in a foul. If a competitor gets two fouls, they automatically lose the bout.
Wilson said she made an adjustment and was able to pin Poenar to win a world title with her left hand on the second go.
“She got me so mad with the first go; I yelled at her, but not in a mean way,” Wilson said.
Winning the title her left hand, she said, was “a surprise and definitely a shock.”
Wilson has been competing in the sport for about 6½ years, but she didn’t even train her left arm for the first year. When she noticed her right arm was getting bigger than her left, she started pulling with both arms.
“My right hand is bigger than my left so to win a world title with it is kind of crazy,” she said.
Wilson, who is right-hand dominant, then competed in the right-hand championships on Oct. 1. The title with her left hand, however, didn’t give her much of a boost of confidence heading into the right-hand competition.
“It made me a little worried,” Wilson said. “I was thinking maybe all of these girls are right-handed too, and they’re coming to get me. I was nervous. Did I train hard enough?”
Once the competition started, however, Wilson didn’t waste any time pinning her opponents.
“I pretty much flash-pinned everybody right-handed,” she said.
In the finals, she had another rematch with a girl she beat previously in the bracket, Emma Brann of Sweden.
She got mad again in the finals.
“I got a false start warning,” she said. “Personally, I don’t think it was.”
In the second go, Wilson said she was nice and slowly pulled Brann over, but the result was still a quick pin.
“I pinned her so fast,” Wilson said. “I outmatched her, in my opinion.”
As a team, the USA won eight senior gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes to win the team title with 134 points. Poland finished second out of the 24 countries represented with 116 points.
“For us to show up and do that was awesome,” Wilson said.
Wilson had competed in the world championships twice before at 60 kg, finishing fifth with her left hand once and fifth with her right hand once.
One American in particular impressed her at this year’s championships: Anthony Hope of Montana. Hope, who is missing his right arm, won the left-handed titles in the senior division at 95 kg and the disabled men’s division at 100 kg after starting the competition with a silver in the master’s 95 kg class.
“I’m so proud of him; what a statement,” Wilson said.
A gold medalist from Norway, on the other hand, got called on to test for doping and took off, resulting in an automatic failure. “He literally ran out of the building,” she said. “They need to keep the athletes as honest as possible. He’ll get a four-year ban, at least,”
Athletes from Russia, meanwhile, were banned from competing.
Wilson grew up in Silverton and said basketball was her main sport growing up. Her freshman year in high school, she transferred to Ouray because she said her class in Silverton only had a few kids in it.
After high school, Wilson played basketball and lacrosse for Adams State University. Even though she had never played lacrosse before college, Wilson had a natural talent for the sport and ended up competing for the Grizzlies.
She first started arm-wrestling in Silverton at the town’s annual Hardrockers Holiday when she was 13 or 14.
At one Hardrocker she said she lost to “a big biker lady,” but it was at that event she learned about the arm-wrestling club in Durango from her now-boyfriend, Ben Bledsoe. Wilson had moved to Durango in 2013; her parents and grandparents both live here.
Arm-wrestling, she said, has it’s own unique techniques people can utilize.
“A lot of it is being able to feel and read pressure from your opponent and counter what they’re doing,” Wilson said.
Besides working her forearms, wrists and hands, she said the muscles she works out the most are the lats on her back, which enable her to pull her opponent into her chest and gain some leverage on them.
While arm-wrestling, competitors have to keep the elbow their pulling with on a pad and their off-hand on a peg, but they can move the rest of their bodies any way.
“You can pretty much do anything you want,” she said. “Using your body weight is almost expected.”
The technique she uses most in her matches is called the “top roll,” which is the same technique Sylvester Stallone used in the movie “Over the Top.”
“It’s more strength-based,” she said. “It’s all about who can control the hand.”
Wilson said she occasionally puts her skills to use at bars in town, usually after her boyfriend finds someone to challenge her for drinks.
“I beat them so easily,” she said “They either get mad or sad.”
Wilson, however, isn’t done competing for real. She’ll compete in the Colorado state championships this weekend in Colorado Springs. She said she has won about 20 state titles not only in Colorado, but also in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Since she weighs in at the lowest weigh class, she typically competes in every weight above hers as well.
“More often than not, I win all of the classes,” she said.
She qualified for the world championships by winning a qualifier in Dallas, earning the right to represent Team USA.
Wilson thanked her sponsors Fit 24/7 Gym, Whitney Auto Sales, Golden Block Brewery and Wildhorse Saloon for all their support and helping her make the trip to France for the world championships.