MENDON — If everything works out right, a Cache Valley man will be returning home from Europe in October with a world title.
Kody Merritt has some unfinished business from the last time he competed on a world stage 16 years ago. He wants to improve on his sixth-place finish in Poland at the World Armwrestling Championships in 2002.
“I want to do better this time; I want to win,” Merritt said in a recent interview.
But with which arm?
The 44-year-old said his left is stronger, but he won U.S. national championships with both. That’s right. Merritt is a national champion times two.
“For me to win the national championship with both hands, that is unique,” Merritt said. “There are others that are really good with both hands. I’m just better left-handed than I am right-handed. And I’m right-handed, that’s the weird thing.”
So, how does that work that he is better with his non dominant hand?
“In the olden days, when I first started, not many people competed left-handed,” Merritt said. “I didn’t understand why. If you are going to train, might as well train both. Back then they never really had tournaments for left-handed armwrestling. I trained both from the beginning and ended up being a much better armwrestler left-handed than right-handed.
“It’s the same principle with both arms, however, I armwrestle different with each arm. I have different strengths with each arm.”
Merritt has been armwrestling since his youth, but became competitive 22 years ago. He did take a hiatus for a while after winning a national championship in 2002, but returned to the sport four years ago. His break kind of went along with his daughter also stepping away from armwrestling.
Hayden Merritt started when she was three. As she became a successful volleyball player, dad stepped in and didn’t want his daughter getting hurt armwrestling. Hayden started two years at Mountain Crest High School and two at Ridgeline High School, graduating this past spring.
When the volleyball season came to an end last fall, Hayden returned to armwrestling. She also qualified for the world competition by finishing second in the women’s 165-175 weight class at nationals this past April in South Bend, Indiana.
The 18-year-old was going to armwrestle in the women’s junior division, but no one else showed up, so she competed with the women, taking second with her right arm and fourth with her left. The top two in each weight class qualify for the world competition.
“In the tournaments now, they just do right arm and left arm and you can sign up for both,” Hayden said. “I figured why not. My left arm is not good.”
Dad quickly jumps in: “It (left arm) actually is good. She is just stronger right-handed.”
Kody went to nationals with high expectations, despite tearing the bicep in his left arm at a big competition in Las Vegas a year ago.
“I really believed I could win,” Kody said. “... I was anxious to see what I could do after the injury because I had been doing well before it happened. I knew I was good and had an opportunity to win.”
He also had a mentor with him. He learned from Robert Baxter, who traveled to Indiana with Kody and Hayden.
“He is a big confidence booster,” Kody said of Baxter. “He can make you feel like you’re a million dollars. He had me feeling great.”
Hayden, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what to expect. But she had a deal with her dad.
“I’m not as serious about armwrestling as he is,” Hayden said motioning to her father. “He made a deal with me that if I wanted to go with him to worlds in Turkey, I had to qualify at nationals or he wouldn’t take me. So, I had to train and practice. I didn’t expect to do good. I haven’t been in a lot of tournaments, so haven’t built up my confidence. But I have a good trainer.”
“She competed against grown women and did really well,” Kody said.
Kody really enjoyed going to South Bend for the national competition.
“When I was in high school playing football, that is where I wanted to go, Notre Dame,” Kody said. “I was so excited to go see the campus and she (Hayden) couldn’t understand why. It’s a cool place.”
Hayden said there are more males than females that armwrestle, but there are enough females to have different weight classes.
At nationals and worlds, the weight classes are normally every 10 pounds. Kody is in the super heavyweight — 243 pounds and up.
The two explained that matches usually go quickly, which is a good thing. The average match lasts “two seconds,” Hayden said.
“Average matches are fast,” Kody said. “If you have a long match that is 30 seconds to a minute.”
“You’re toast, you’re done,” Hayden said.
“You do not want long matches,” Kody said. “You want to be very efficient and get the match over quickly.”
“Having a long match like that, you are out the rest of the day,” Hayden said. “Your arm can’t do anything. ... My matches were longer than his.”
At a competition, you sign up and weigh in. You draw a token with a number on it. It’s all the luck of the draw who you start with.
Kody explained there are three basic moves called top roll, hook and shoulder press. Then there are techniques with each.
Each competitor gets a grip, lower the thumbs and wrap hands, starting with a straight wrist. The referee says “ready, go.”
“People like to wrap a leg around a pole, but I think that stuff is crazy,” Kody explained. “You have to have one elbow on the pad, one foot on the ground, off hand has to stay on the peg. To win the match, you take the opponents’ hand, which is from the wrist up, and either touch the pad or below the pad. You can also win off fouls, but that is never a fun way to win.”
The World Championships are in Antalya, Turkey, from Oct. 15-19. Kody and Hayden have been trying to raise money to make the trip. The city of Mendon also tried to help with some fundraisers on Pioneer Day. If anyone is interested they can contact Kody on Facebook at Kody Spur Merritt.
“We had a armwrestling table set up so people could come armwrestle Hayden or I on Pioneer Day and get an idea of what it’s like,” Kody said. “We armwrestled most of the day.”
Anyone interested in learning the sport, Kody hosts a practice once a week at his home in Mendon.
“If there are people here in Cache Valley that want to get started, they need to get ahold of me,” Kody said. “We can get them coming to practices and teach them.”
There are competitions in Ogden, Salt Lake City and in Idaho. He hopes to start having some in Cache Valley. For now, he is concentrating on getting to Turkey and winning a world title.