The Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland
“There’s a thing that most women know about, where we try to take up less space,” says Tina Lewis of Portland. And that, she says, is the exact opposite of being a Superhero Lady Armwrestler of Portland.
“We can come out here and be who we want to be a little while, unapologetically,” says the 34-year-old SLAP member, who is known as Tina Machina. “The arm wrestling is real. But it’s also a way for women to be creative, and the theatrics make it more interesting and make the crowd buy in. The whole purpose, in the end, is to raise money for these charities. If you can do that by losing—that, to me, is even more impressive.”
SLAP puts on about three events a year, raising money for community groups such as Family Crisis Services, the Locker Project and the Maine Tool Library. Eight lady arm wrestlers make their entrances, each with a persona, entourage and theme song. During the single-elimination competition (with an undercurrent of improv comedy), each entourage collects donations on behalf of their lady arm wrestler. And the lady who fundraises the most wins the Crowd Favorite title.
It’s a model that plays out from coast to coast, with Portland’s SLAP being just one of about two dozen leagues in the national Collective Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLAW). Every two years, lady arm wrestlers from across the country get together for a convention called the SUPERCLAW—and the chance to win the national title.
When a SLAP posse headed to SUPERCLAW in Washington, DC in 2014, Maine lady Kate Squibb—aka Lumbersmack Sally or “the one with the chainsaw”—made it to the final rounds.
Lady arm wrestler Jenna Keys, a 40-year-old Portland mother of three, was inspired by what she experienced in the nation’s capital.
“Being part of a national community of lady arm wrestlers and women who are involved in social justice, that carried me,” says Keys, who is still known by her original superhero persona of Voom Voom. “This is more than a local thing, and that feels really good.”
At SLAP’s second trip to the national championships, Mary Devou of South Portland secured the national title. Her usual persona, Slammin’ Sista Mary, complete with an entourage of naughty schoolgirls, had to be cloistered, as the SUPERCLAW already had the popular Sister Patricia Pistolwhip from Los Angeles in the nun category. As an alternative, Devou transformed into her lifelong fantasy—a mermaid named Pearl of the Atlantic. All glittery and with long red curls, Devou won the national title based on her arm wrestling—something that didn’t come easily to her when she first discovered SLAP.
“But I wanted to win,” she says. “I wanted to get up there and take down Black Mamba.”
To improve her skills, Devou joined 207 Armsports, a co-ed (but mostly male) arm wrestling club that competes in Maine and New Hampshire. Since winning a SUPERCLAW and being deemed a professional—because she won first place in her weight division with 207 Armsports at the Maine Call to Arms last June—Devou has shifted focus to training new and prospective lady arm wrestlers.
“I’m working with more ladies who are coming in on how to be safe on the table using their whole bodies, not just their arms,” she says.
With hopes of recruitment, SLAP hosted a workshop in November with a twofold focus—arm wrestling skills and character development.
“I love the arm wrestling,” says Devou, who is back to being Slammin’ Sista Mary. “But through it, my character has grown. Once I won, I started ripping off my habit, with a dress underneath.”
Meanwhile, Keys competes as Fannie the Fight Attendant, just dripping sex and flanked by a male entourage of pilots, entering to the tune of “I Get Lifted” by George McCrae.
And the badass character of Tina Machina is completely unapologetic—exactly the opposite of Lewis’ demeanor in the hospitality business.
“I always say that each character is born in each woman because it’s something that doesn’t get to see the light of day in real life,” said Lewis, who joined the national board in 2017. “Here, there’s nothing we can’t say or be or do. It’s a place to explore where your boundaries are—and to step over them too. And it’s empowering.”
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.