Margie Ciaccio, grandma and arm-wrestling champ, needs a hand

Leadville's Margie Ciaccio is a 47-year-old grandmother with an unusual claim to fame: She's an arm-wrestling titan with four world titles and plenty of other prizes to her credit.

At last year's championships in Italy, for example, she won the left-hand competition in the sixty kilogram weight class of the masters division (age forty and older), "and I took third in the right hand, because I fouled out," she says. "I'm like, that's a nice way to lose!"

An even less pleasant way of falling short is not to be able to compete in the first place. That's the prospect Ciaccio faces when it comes to this year's world championship, slated for May 29 in London. She must raise funds to get her there -- and she needs a little assistance.

Thanks to stories in media outlets such as the Vail Mountaineer newspaper and help from generous parishioners at Vail's Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, where she's on the staff, Ciaccio is getting closer to the amount she needs. And as her life demonstrates, she's not one to stop until she reaches her goals.

Ciaccio is a Nebraska native who used to work at a correctional facility there. "My supervisor there knew I worked out a lot," she recalls. "He'd heard about a local arm-wrestling tournament being put on in Omaha, and he called me up and said he'd pay my fees if I went, because he thought I could win."

He was right: Ciaccio took first place in that contest, held in 1992. Along the way, she quickly befriended Mary McConnaughey, an arm wrestler who ran that event and many others staged throughout the Midwest. With McConnaughey's help, she quickly rose into the upper ranks of the sport.

"Five months into it, I went to my first nationals, in McLean, Virginia, and then eight months into it, I went to my first worlds, in Switzerland," she says. "I've only been to about six world events, even though I qualified every year at nationals for all of them."

Money is the reason. Ciaccio, who moved to Leadville a couple of years back, has five kids between the ages of sixteen and 27, all of whom have competed in arm wrestling at one point or another. And that's not to mention her seven grandkids, with one on the way.

"Raising a family, you have to watch your finances, and traveling to other countries isn't inexpensive," she stresses. "I had to pick and choose which ones I was going to attend. Actually, the one in Italy last year was the first world competition I'd been to in almost a decade."

This step back onto the global stage admittedly made her nervous, since she competes against other master classers as well as in the open competition, where contestant ages can range from the teens on up.

As such, she often arm wrestles against women who are twenty or even thirty years her junior -- which only makes her accomplishments that much more impressive. In Italy, she finished fourth right-handed and seventh left-handed in the open competition.

She would love to at least equal that performance in London, but she needs a financial boost to pay for airfare, room and board, attire and special shoes that will allow her to measure up to her competition. "At a lot of contests, wrestlers who are short like me stand on a riser so that you're at the same level as your opponent," she explains. "But they don't allow those in London. So I'm going to have to find some type of shoe that has a high enough heel that it'll support me. Because the girls I'm going to compete against, most of them will probably have three or four inches on me."

Those eager to pitch in can reach Ciaccio through her Facebook page or by e-mailing her directly at [email protected].

"The responses I've been getting, they've just been very heartwarming," she maintains. "Especially the ones I've gotten from people I don't even know. For somebody who just knows me off my profile to be willing to send any kind of contribution to help me get to this event says a lot about them as a person and a lot about what they think of me as an athlete."

An athlete capable of tearing the arm out of your socket. But even though she's far too nice to do anything like that, please give generously.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts