What started out as an eccentric fantasy sports league organized by two women in an athletic club in Charlottesville, North Carolina, the movement – all-women’s arm-wrestling tournaments – has become a flamboyant demonstration of Girl Power combined with feminist altruism and a heavy touch of show-biz. Jacinta Bunnell and Lilly Bechtel are the ladies responsible for bringing the phenomenon to the Hudson Valley, producing the inaugural BRAWL just two years ago and setting in sweaty motion a means of women supporting women that puts the “fun” in fundraiser.
In past competitions, the local group of wrestlers has donated funds to such causes as BIRTHE in Highland, Family of Woodstock, Ulster County Teen Parent Services and Planned Parenthood of Ulster County. This time out, all money placed on bets and accumulated at the door goes to the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), providing emergency rental assistance for low-income female-headed families.
BRAWL’s part-time announcer and sometime contestant Julie Novak (a/k/a Dee Baser when she’s locking fists with another strong arm) says that RUPCO was the chosen beneficiary for this first-of-the-season showdown for obvious reasons: “Based on current economics and the housing crisis, helping single women to pay their rent seemed the most relevant. It matches our cause.”
Noting her own recent span of unemployment, Novak pondered the possibility that she might have had to appeal to RUPCO herself. She did land a great job, but hasn’t let her own good fortune slow down efforts to aid others. “I’m committed to communities getting together and backing up their own. I love living in a community where people do that for each other. It’s the spirit of tithing.”
This sentiment is being proliferated throughout the country, with groups forming in Taos, New Orleans, Chicago and other spots where women care enough to duke it out for charity. Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell and Jodie Plaisance, those originators of Charlottesville Lady Arm-Wrestlers (CLAW), could not have guessed that their whimsy would result in multiple leagues with national coordination and championship events – not to mention the thousands of dollars raised in each location to lend an open hand to people in need of assistance.
Bring your hard-earned cash to place bets on the wrestler of your choice at the Bridgewater Irish Pub & Restaurant on Abeel Street in the Rondout District of Kingston this Friday. Donations at the door are appreciated, ranging from $1 to $100. You get a free tee-shirt with a $50 donation or more. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the competition starts an hour later, by which time all contestants’ posses should be in place and ready to roar. You, too, can invent an appropriate alter ego, dress up (or down, as the case may be) and sign up to wrestle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check it out at www.hudsonvalleybrawl.com.