400 arm-wrestlers from 24 States have converged on Kolencherry where the 37th edition of the championship got under way on Tuesday

To make a living, Mohan Sharma helps brides and bridegrooms turn up in their best attires for their wedding.

But when it comes to passion, there is nothing that excites this 30-year-old from Delhi as arm-wrestling. Unsurprisingly, for someone who runs a business in wedding dresses his favourite dress is his Delhi team jersey that he puts on while representing the State in arm wrestling competitions.

Mr. Sharma is among the more than 400 arm wrestlers from 24 different States who have converged on Kolencherry, a town about 30 kilometres from here, where the 37th edition of the national arm-wrestling championship got underway on Tuesday.

Mr. Sharma, a polio victim, contests in the 90kg class in the general and the disabled categories. Having qualified as the best in his class at the State level, he has one gold and three silvers in his kitty from three previous appearances at the nationals.

“It is very popular in our part of the country and helps to become a popular figure among friends,” said the burly arm-wrestler who hits the gym regularly and goes for a protein-rich diet to keep his fitness.

This power-intensive game, however, is not a male bastion. Lawmnasangzuali, a first year B. Com student from Mizoram competes in the 50 kg class in her debut at the nationals. Her frail appearance can be deceptive for an athlete who loves racing and idolizes five times World Champion and Olympic bronze medal winning boxer Mary Kom from her neighbouring State of Manipur. “I love boxing and for me arm-wrestling is a stepping stone to that,” said Lawmnasangzuali who works part-time at an eyewear shop.

N.K. Eswary, a national champion at the 80kg-class at the last year’s championship held in Mizoram, representing Kerala has her fingers in many pies. A national champion in power lifting and weightlifting, which secured her a job in the health department under sports quota, she has also represented the State in handball and football besides playing cycle polo at the national level.

“Since I am into power lifting for more than two decades, I don’t need to train specifically for arm-wrestling. I just wrestle with a few when the State and national events are near,” said Eswary appearing in her third national championship.

Neetu S, from Delhi, who runs a fitness facility, was bit by the arm-wrestling bug just a year ago. But this State level champion in the 55kg-class was always fascinated by it. “It’s a game of power,” she reasons for having chosen the sport.

But some grew up on this sport.

Jomon George from Thrissur, a national champion in the 55kg-class in the junior and senior categories in the last nationals, has been into arm wrestling from his school days when he used to wrestle his friends into submission. For a youngster, he is already a veteran of sorts in the sport as this is his fifth appearance at the national championship.

His training routine includes exercises with dumbbells, rope climbing, push-ups and pull-ups, and finger exercises besides an ingenious drill of stretching cycle tubes with bare hands to strengthen his arm. “I don’t follow any special diet but just controls it when the competitions approach to ensure that my body weight does not exceed the 55kg-class,” Jomon said.

The national level championship, which ends on Friday, has three categories for the men. Men aged between 18 and 40 years can participate in senior men’s category, which features 11 different weight classes ranging from 50 kg to 110 kg and over 110 kg. The champions in these 11 categories come face to face on a knock-out basis to decide the winner of the best arm bender title.

Those aged above 40 years compete in the master’s category featuring five weight classes ranging between 60 and 90 and over 90. The contest for the disabled has six weight categories ranging from 50 to 70 and over 70 kg.

The women’s competition is limited to a single category featuring eight different weight classes ranging from 50 kg to 80 kg and over 80 kg.

The host team has the maximum number of participants – 64 – followed by Manipur with 41 participants.

That Kerala will host this year’s nationals was decided last year itself. “Kolancherry was fixed as the venue since the St: Peter’s College here was very supportive and has a full fledged multi-purpose indoor stadium,” said Jojy Eloor, State general secretary of Kerala Arm-Wrestling Association and deputy general secretary of the Indian Arm-Wrestling Federation.

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