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Against All Odds: Barrie woman's rise to becoming champion arm wrestler

More than 20 years ago, when her dad brought competitors over to practice arm wrestling, 9-year-old Sarah Wilson thought she would give the sport a shot. She's been hooked ever since.

"In team sports, you have four or five other people, but if you're arm wrestling, it's just you on your own. You have to figure it out on your own without anyone's help, and it's difficult sometimes," explained Sarah, who has now earned seven Canadian arm wrestling championships in her career.

When she does need advice, Sarah can lean on her dad, Earl, an 11-time arm wrestling world champion who now doubles as her coach.

"I'm very close with my kids, and it's strengthened the relationship. It builds a bond that I wouldn't think other people get to do," said Earl Wilson.

"We've spent a lot of time together over the years. Just he and I working out or going to practice, obviously travelling, lots of time spent in the car, it's been good. We've gotten really close," added Sarah.

The duo trains twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays with IronArms Barrie. The practices which take place at Athletic Kulture in Barrie are open to anyone who wants to give arm wrestling a try.

"I spend most of my time on the table or in the gym. I work out a lot just because I want to be the best," said Sarah.

"She gets to take part in something I was passionate about, and I've been passionate about for about 30 years. Now she's taken the same approach to it on her own, and she's taking it to a different level," explained Earl. "I might be biased, but there's no doubt in my mind she will end up being one of the top female greats of the sport in this country, and I have no doubt she's capable of winning a world championship."

However, Sarah wasn't always sure that she had the potential to achieve greatness in the sport.

"I'm an insecure person normally, so I didn't think I had it in me to be able to do that. After I won my first nationals, I was like, oh wow, maybe you have a lot more than you thought you did," recalled Sarah.

Despite shocking even herself with all her provincial and national success, it's not the accolades that inspire Sarah's love for the sport. It's the sense of belonging.

"When I was growing up, I didn't really fit in anywhere, I thought, but when I started arm wrestling, it was 'hey, you're one of us, and you're part of the family,' and that's what I love the most about it," said Sarah.

That inspiration and motivation were challenged when cancer struck their family. Her younger brother Bradley was diagnosed with a brain tumour that metastasized into bone cancer.

"It's been really hard. I lost my brother in 2013, so that was difficult. I promised him, though, that I would continue to arm wrestle," said Sarah. And continue she did, to the peak of the sport in honour of her best friend. "I actually won my first nationals in 2014. It was six months after my brother died. It was the hardest thing I've ever done."

While Sarah has managed to take the Canadian crown seven times since 2014, she doesn't want to stop there. She and her dad are ramping up training and setting their sights on the 2024 world championships in Africa.

Ontario's provincial arm wrestling championships take place at the Pentanguishene Memorial Community Centre on May 13.

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