View a full gallery of images from the event here.
“I think I might need another hairpin,” Amanda Lehmert says. “My wig feels loose.”
Lehmert drapes the ginger curls of her wig over her shoulder, then walks up to the taproom of Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Co., her floor-length Grecian-inspired dress trailing behind her.
Lehmert is going by Aphro-Bite-Me this evening, taking her place among the parade of costumed women kicking off the fourth season of the Greensboro Arm Wrestling League. Tonight, a Saturday, the quiet taproom out front acts as the backstage area to a tournament of ladies’ arm-wrestling.
Lehmert pulls up a page on her phone, showing off the money the group raised before the first match had begun. The proceeds go towards the Guilford Green Foundation’s newly-opened LGBTQ Center. At the end of the night, the women will have raised over $4,000. For Lehmert, the real victory comes from the donations, rather than forcing an opponent’s fist onto their side of the table.
“I’m really competitive at the fundraising part,” she admits.
Jennifer Ruppe, executive director of Guilford Green Foundation, jumps into the fray against Lehmert. For her first onstage arm-wrestling experience, Ruppe crafts what she calls the “anti-Valentine”: Cu-Pissed. She covers herself in a dark cloak and mask, lit up by a red LED heart on the back of her cape, along with her slogan.
“My tagline is, ‘Breaking hearts and pinching arms,’” Ruppe says.
Aphro-Bite-Me gives a sarcastic-looking curtsy after losing two rounds to Cu-Pissed, but she grins as she weaves through the room while the rest of the matches play out.
Rachel Scott, a founder of GRAWL, firmly believes in the group’s motto of “fierce feminist philanthropy.” Scott mentions how women gain confidence through controlled combat and shared goals.
“It’s really fun to see a lot of the women come out of their shell,” Scott says.
For Shannon Reeves, the night may be her last armwrestling event in Greensboro before moving to Asheville. . However she pushes that thought to the back of her mind to act as Sleazy Weasley — the Weasley sister disowned for sorting into Slytherin.
“I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, but I also love looking sexy if I can,” she laughed. “So I merged the two ideas.”
When she loses, she stays in the running by using a GRAWL tradition: the tie-breaker.
When an arm-wrestler loses a match, they may rejoin the competition if they both raise $75 in GRAWL bux, the competition’s currency, and a competition of their choice.
Sleazy Weasley weasels her way back with a lip-sync to Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.” She jumps around the aisle as her secret weapon— a glitter cannon — deploys.
After losing a second match to Candy Crusher of Dreams, aka Laura Eynon-Way, Reeves repays the sum of money for a dance-off.
As Britney Spears’ “Toxic” plays, the Slytherin sways her hips, climbing onto the front-row bench; her Hogwarts entourage rains GRAWL bux down on her. Candy Crusher, her magenta wig draping her face, hangs her head in defeat.
“It’s hard to compete with all that cleavage,” Eynon-Way laughs.
Mary Elise McNaught, known for the evening as the no-nonsense punk-rocker Cherry Bomb, ends most of her matches in moments. She stares down Sleazy Weasley as she approaches the table. The divided crowd chants “Cherry” and “Sleazy” as the referee places his hand over their interlocked grips and starts the match.
While Sleazy Weasley resists Cherry Bomb’s strength, Cherry manages to break through at the final second and slam her fist onto the cushion.
After the show, McNaught greets some of the people she wrestles for — her students.
“Part of the reason I wanted to do this GRAWL was for them,” McNaught said.
McNaught sees arm-wrestling as a chance to not only raise money for the foundation, but to also help the LGBTQ students in her middle-school classes.
McNaught adds how becoming Cherry Bomb provides a channel to show off being a strong woman.
“It was outside of my gender role,” McNaught said, her trophy tucked under one arm. “So, this has given me an outlet for that.”