Arm-wrestling agony! One writer's crushing defeat and subsequent redemption

In the grand tradition of pugilists like Rocky Balboa and, to a lesser extent, Rudy Ruettiger, I have a demanding workout routine: Every morning, I get up, eat four steaks, drink a dozen raw eggs directly from the blender, oil myself up and stare at my imposing delts in the mirror for at least 45 minutes. I don't actually engage in any physical activity besides steering my car and speed-typing, but I figured with the whole delt-oiling thing that I pretty much had my bases covered just in case, some day, I might be forced to prove my manliness in that most manly of contests, arm-wrestling. This weekend, I was proved wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

When I showed up to the first qualifying round of the Denver Nationals Championship Arm Wrestling, I took a moment to survey my meager competition and immediately declared myself the winner; there were a couple of pretty skinny guys, one guy who was wearing sunglasses even though it was night, another guy who was pretty good at ring on a hook and a guy with a large scar on his tree-trunk-like bicep from when, I was told, he broke his arm in actual, professional arm-wrestling. That guy wasn't participating -- he was just there to survey the scene -- but I figured if it came down to it I could take him. I took off my cardigan sweater and rolled up my sleeves for extra intimidation. "You Shook Me All Night Long" was playing on the jukebox, and I was about to shake this motherfucker. All night long.

After catching up with photographer Kate Levy, purchasing my lady a glass of the bar's finest Yellowtail, watching a few dudes go head-to-head and making sure everyone in the place had seen my biceps -- which were bearing a positively uncanny resemblance to coils of rugged steel -- it was time for the winner to take the spoils. I reared back and demanded a challenger.

The first to approach was ring-on-a-hook guy, and it was obvious he was intimidated; he seemed comfortable enough to the casual observer, true, but it was a hollow comfort. Squaring off on the regulation arm-wrestling table, we prepared for the bout. My steely gaze rivaled my steely biceps.

And then, the unimaginable happened: I lost.

I'd gotten overconfident. Like Apollo Creed in Rocky 2, I'd arrogantly allowed myself to see victory as a foregone conclusion. True, my next challenger approached with wolf-like hunger in his eyes and neatly dispatched me -- but in the end, my real opponent had been my own hubris.

I spent the next 18 hours weeping.

It wasn't until Sunday evening, while I was eating the last of an econo-size box of choco tacos and watching March Madness through an endless sheet of tears, that I realized the truth. A victorious basketball player was doing a post-game interview with an attractive woman and telling her that his team had won by giving 110 percent -- and it came to me: My problem was, I had only given 100 percent, foolishly assuming that my limits and the limits of mathematical possibility would coincide.

It won't happen again. And though I did not qualify to participate in the championship round at the Bannock Street Garage on April 2, I'll be back again, and I will win. Not with heart and determination like Rocky -- that shit is for chumps, I realized -- but instead like George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election: with questionable mathematics.

And let the winner take the fucking spoils.

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