The World Champion Arm Wrestler
BY ALEX CANTATORE
“I’m very competitive,” says Judy Dodd, plainly.
It’s a drive that guided Dodd’s life as she arm wrestled at a world-class level, ultimately taking home a world championship. And it drives Dodd today, as she competes in the burgeoning sport of CrossFit.
She sits inside a spartan gym with a few racks of free weights and kettlebells, a large pull-up area, and a few tractor tires to flip. It’s just a few blocks from Downtown Patterson, a city she’s called home for decades.
Now 50, with two children, Dodd worked at the Patterson Joint Unified School District for 12 years. She worked in food transportation, while coaching track and volleyball in her spare time. But as she flew across the world to arm wrestle, she always wanted something more.
“I always wanted to do something in fitness,” Dodd said. “I always worked out.”
It was 20 years ago now, when Dodd was 30, that she got her start in arm wrestling. There’s an annual arm wrestling competition at the Patterson Apricot Festival, and Dodd decided to enter.
It just looked fun, she says. It was something about the challenge of going one-on-one in a test of strength with one opponent. May the best woman win.
“It shows women can be strong, and I love that,” Dodd said.
In that first year, Dodd claimed second place. Her performance attracted the attention of Bill Collins, a world champion arm wrestler who happens to live in Los Banos. Dodd had promise, Collins thought, so he offered to help train her.
Arm wrestling isn’t all about raw strength. It’s about strategically controlling your opponent’s hand and arm, using techniques like hooking, rolling, and pulling.
As Dodd learned more about the sport, she started competing in competitions in Tahoe, in Petaluma,in Bakersfield. She travelled to Columbus, Ohio to arm wrestle at the Arnold Classic, one of the nation’s premiere bodybuilding festivals. Her arm wrestling career took her to Oregon, Little Rock, and Vegas.
Through it all, Dodd was driven by the competition. And the one-on-one world of arm wrestling encourages it.
“I didn’t want anything to do with (my opponents),” Dodd said. “They were kind of my enemy.”
Eventually, Dodd was ready to compete on a world stage. She traveled to Russia in 1998, representing Team USA in the world championships.
“I got humbled,” Dodd said. “I was out in five minutes.”
In 2005, Dodd got her revenge. She travelled to Japan, and claimed the world title.
“It was awesome. That was probably the highlight of my arm wrestling career.”
Through arm wrestling, Dodd started hearing rumblings about a new kind of workout. CrossFit.
It was pitched as a way to make you stronger for anything you may encounter in life, be it running from a dog, or jumping a fence.
CrossFitters perform complicated workout routines involving Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardio. And each routine is timed, letting CrossFitters compete to beat the clock.
Dodd was smitten. It was a new kind of workout, combining her love for competition and fitness. She opened her own CrossFit gym, CrossFit Patterson, 18 months ago to great success.
“To start a whole new career path and be successful… It’s pretty amazing,” Dodd said.
Every year, the best CrossFitters in the world compete at the CrossFit Games. It’s basically the Olympics of CrossFit.
Amateurs across the nation can qualify for the Games, competing in a distributed set of workouts. Set a good enough time, and you qualify.
Why not give it a try, Dodd thought. And as of our interview, Dodd had the 30th best time nationwide, out of 3,100 people in her age group. If Dodd finishes in the top 20, she’ll qualify for the CrossFit Regionals, a three-day meatgrinder where five competitors will qualify for the CrossFit Games.
Dodd thinks she has a chance to crack the top 20, with four workouts remaining. She was 22nd before one bad workout dropped her in the standings.
“If I can lose eight spots in one workout,” Dodd said, “I can gain 10 spots in four workouts.
“I have a chance to go,” Dodd continued. “It’s really exciting… And pretty scary at the same time.”
Though Dodd’s life is focused on CrossFit these days, she still chairs the arm wrestling competition at the Apricot Fiesta. And she’ll be arm wrestling at the Fiesta too, just as she has for the past 20 years.
“I just can’t get away from it,” she says with a laugh.
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