Arm wrestling champion pulling for world title
By Joanie Veitch,
Representing Team Canada for the fifth time, Lt(N) Will Sarty is going to the World Arm Wrestling Championships in Orlando, Florida next month. A top medal-winning athlete at the regional, national and international level, Lt(N) Sarty said he is feeling better than he has in years — and he’s setting his sights on winning.
“I’m going to the podium this year. I feel super healthy and confident going in,” he said. “I’m feeling strong and I’m just getting stronger every day.”
The championships usually draws between 2,500 to 3,000 athletes, competing in many different weight classes, but due to COVID-19 restrictions participation numbers are down this year. Lt(N) Sarty will be one of about 40 athletes representing Team Canada, in both right and left arm matches.
Lt(N) Sarty has come a long way from 2015, when he was last at the World Arm Wrestling Championships in Malaysia. He placed fourth at that event but a previous injury from the 2013 world championships in Poland was still giving him trouble.
Going through physiotherapy and the PSP Reconditioning program, Lt(N) Sarty recovered enough over the following winter to win gold at both regional and national championships in 2014 and 2015. But despite taking another gold at the regional level in 2016, he knew he wasn’t anywhere near full recovery and his pain was getting worse.
“I knew that I had to retire from the sport but it was devastating for me. It took me two days to write my retirement message and it took another week for me to be able to hit send. It had a huge emotional impact.”
Over the next year, however, he made some big changes. He began intensive rehabilitation with PSP and at home began practicing yoga for at least half an hour everyday to improve blood flow throughout his body. Along with the UCL tear, years of arm wrestling had left Lt(N) Sarty with osteoarthritis from shoulder to fingers, along with bicep tendonitis, both radial and carpal tunnel syndrome, and bone spurs.
Over time, the new regime began to pay off; as the pain diminished and he began to regain his strength, Lt(N) Sarty took up rock climbing — a sport that, like arm wrestling, relies on a weight to strength ratio.
Deployed to Latvia in 2020, he began arm wrestling again, feeling strong enough to start a club and get back into doing regular matches. After returning from the Baltic this past February, he went back to his arm wrestling club in Lower Sackville, where he began training with Team Nova Scotia and, most recently, received an invitation to represent Team Canada at the world championships.
“Going to the worlds this year is a fantastic opportunity — it’s very nostalgic — but am I going to compete every year at the worlds? Nope, probably not,” he said. “I know my body and I know I can’t train as hard as I used to, and I’m not willing to hurt myself just to win. I don’t need that.”
As excited as he is to be going to the world championship event, Lt(N) Sarty said the process of getting there can be gruelling, going far beyond just the physical training. From thinking obsessively about nutrition and fluid intake to make his weight class, to researching his potential competitors and studying their technique, the mental lead up to the competition is huge.
“This process, getting ready and preparing to go — both mentally and physically — is taxing. I’m seeing the strain now. I am thinking about it constantly,” he said.
Lt(N) Sarty began arm wrestling in high school after a plumber doing work on his family’s property gave him some pointers. “He was a multi-time national arm wrestler. He pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to learn.”
A natural at the sport, Lt(N) Sarty began training and came home with a bronze from his first provincial tournament on July 26, 2000, adding two more bronze wins at nationals in Manitoba later that same year.
Now known as “Armbender” in arm wrestling circles — has won 22 national medals, including 15 consecutive golds. A qualified coach and trainer, Lt(N) Sarty has also written a manual on arm wrestling.
In preparation for the world championship, Lt(N) Sarty studies video matches of his potential competitors and compiles profile sheets to review with his training team at the Nova Scotia Arm Wrestling Association.
“At the world level, the mental game is huge,” he said. “You have to know what you’re dealing with.”
The World Arm Wrestling Championships take place September 14 to 20 in Orlando, Florida.