Ladies arm wrestle for fun, philanthropy

Sarah-Grace Sweeney

“I’m here to make sure they’re all playing fair, but I ain’t fair,” referee Leah “The Boss” Moss yelled from the stage as she collected bribes from the audience. The crowd absolutely ate it up, chanting for the wrestlers during a spontaneous dance-off. Clearly, it is almost impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of a ladies’ arm wrestling match. 

CLAWstin, the Austin chapter of CLAW USA or Coalition of Lady Arm Wrestlers, held its first match Oct. 13 at Bar 96, where it raised about $4,700 for local charity 1house at a time. Co-founders and UT alumnae Beth Taylor, Jen Murrill and Amelia Byars Penoli expect the event to be biannual.

The idea came to Murrill from a good friend who was a part of the original CLAW in Charlottesville, Va. After sharing the idea of starting a local chapter with Taylor and Penoli, they thought Austin would be the perfect place for a league of lady arm wrestlers.

“We had to bring it to Austin,” Taylor said. “It just seemed like the perfect event, and obviously, we all liked the charity aspect, that it was a local charity, too.”

Today, Austin is one of several cities with a CLAW chapter. National board member and former wrestler Cathy Harding said it is becoming viral with seven member leagues and three apprentice leagues.

“It’s all about making women feel strong and happy and surprised with what they are doing, creating a fun evening for people who go and then providing meaningful charitable donations to organizations that might never get on the radar otherwise,” Harding said.

Each chapter is made up of a group of theatrical and philanthropic women who raise money for women-initiated causes that often get overlooked. Choosing the charity to receive the funds took a while, said Murrill. “Most of the charities that we found right off the bat already had a very well-established fundraising committee or development staff,” Murrill said. “So we had to really take a step back and look for something that’s really grassroots, really small.”

They chose local program 1house at a time, which helps to create energy-efficient homes for people who cannot afford their high utility costs. The charity is a part of the larger local charity A Nurtured World, which was started by Susan Roothaan.

After picking the charity, they sought out their wrestlers. Each event features eight wrestlers with their own persona, entourage and theme song. The first CLAWstin event featured characters such as Pain Fonda, inspired by ’80s fitness fiend Jane Fonda and Schauf Shank Redemption, an angry prison guard eager to take out her wrath through arm wrestling. Diana Davis, a UT law school alumna who was also a part of the event, played the role of Erin Rock-a-Bitch, the no-nonsense lawyer.

“I try not to be a lawyer pun all the time. Just because there’s so many bad lawyer jokes and puns as it is,” Davis said. “So I was brainstorming and for some reason just thought of Erin Rock-a-Bitch, and I think people reacted to it really well.”

Davis was asked to wrestle by her good friend Taylor. She had to think about it at first, but found it hard to say not to a combination of costumes, wigs and a good cause.

“I didn’t want to be cast in a bad light,” Davis said. “But I thought about it, and I like to entertain people and make people laugh, so I said sure.”

Davis has already told Taylor that she will wrestle again because she enjoyed it so much. Being a part of CLAW has not only already impacted Davis but has played a big role in Harding’s life as well. As a part of the original CLAW group, she has seen it grow to what it is today and could not be happier.

“We are providing some support and inspiration for other communities and women in other communities to discover this themselves,” Harding said about the national CLAW board. “At our heart, we try to keep that electricity alive for every other group that tries to start a chapter.”

Electricity and empowerment is exactly what Taylor, Murrill and Penoli hope to share with the Austin community, maybe even giving the wrestling a try themselves next time.

“We all just want to do something that’s bigger than us. Something that we can start and plant the seeds and watch it grow but then eventually turn it over to new people,” Taylor said. “And hopefully, it becomes a lasting event in Austin that raises money for years and years for local charities.”

Printed on Thursday, October 20, 2011 as: CLAWstin ladies arm wrestle for fun, philanthropy