Arm wrestling has brought Steve Stanaway 30 world and national titles, more than 300 trophies and a measure of fame.
But it hasn't done much — at least in one memorable instance — for his personal life.
In Maryland for a tournament years ago, Stanaway convinced his then-girlfriend, who lifted weights but had never arm-wrestled in a tournament, to sign up in a three-person division paying $100 to the third-place finisher.
" 'Get in there,' " Stanaway told his lady friend. " 'It'll cost you $25. You got an easy $75 in your pocket.' She kept saying no, no, no, and finally I talked her into it. First time she ever put her elbow on the table in competition – bam, she broke her arm.
"… We were in the hospital in Baltimore, and they were setting her arm. She was mad. She was hot. I said, 'Hey, you still took third.' "
If that statement shows a bit of a one-track mind, what do you expect from someone has arm wrestled for almost two-thirds of his life?
Stanaway was 23 in 1968 when he and a body building buddy, having read about events sponsored by the fledgling World Armsports Federation in New York, hopped in the car and drove to Brooklyn to see what it was all about. With no training, Stanaway finished second, and an avocation to trump all avocations was born.
Forty-two years later, when Stanaway puts his elbow on the table in today's Atlantic Coast Arm Wrestling Championships at Body By D Gym in Yorktown, he reckons he'll be the only arm-wrestler in the country to have done so at least once in each of the last six decades.
"It's the only thing I can do," said Stanaway, 65, a former weight lifter who injured his knee in a long-ago football game too badly to compete in power lifting contests.
Stanaway doesn't enter many tournaments in specific weight divisions anymore, preferring instead to take on any comers in one-on-one challenge matches where competitors decide the rules. But today, in order to be sure his competitive salvo in 2010 is an official match, he'll face an unknown number of challengers in the masters division of the 198-pound weight class.
"I'm so nervous now I can't stand up," Stanaway said. "You get all that adrenaline in your stomach, and there's no way to get rid of it."
Stanaway won't be alone as he tries to process those nerves. Younger brother Randy, 51, also will be competing in the event, which begins at 1 p.m.
"I watched him do it, and I decided if he could do it, then I could do it," said Randy, who took up the sport at 16 and learned from his older brother while forging his own style. "... He was more like a shoulder roller, and I was more hand control. I would pop your hand, take your hand away from your body, and he would bring his body into your arm. It's a big difference."
For Randy, today's competition — in a different weight class than his brother — will serve as a prelude to the U.S. championships, which begin Aug. 6 in Montana. He has two second-place national finishes to his credit, and is determined this will be the year he finishes first.
"I'm getting tired of that second best," Randy Stanaway said.
Steve Stanaway, who was enshrined in 2005 in the Lower Peninsula Athletic Hall of Fame alongside the likes of
, won the first of 13 world championships in 1970 and still has the worn navy jacket, complete with an embroidered peace sign in an American flag pattern, to prove it. He also has 17 national titles to his credit — a feat that he says was more impressive for many years while the rest of the world caught up to the U.S. in the sport.
The brothers live in York County, where Randy runs his own business and Steve is retired from the Northrop Grumman shipyard, but arm wrestling has taken them around the world. Steve has been to 22 countries (his favorite was Greece) and Randy to five (his favorite was Russia). Steve won a 2002 world championship in Egypt, but saw plenty of less-glamorous locales back in the day, when he and a few other arm wrestling aficionados would take off for Detroit, Cincinnati or Chattanooga, chasing competition.
"We'd go by car and face whoever showed up," Steve said. "Sometimes it wasn't worth it. You'd come home with your tail between your legs because you got beat."
These days, the brothers are happy to take the table to demonstrate moves and counterattacks, but they don't go full-bore after each other, and say they've never used arm-wrestling to settle a dispute.
"We set a night aside where we practice, but we never have a side bet or anything like that," Randy said. "We respect each other's abilities."