I had to catch my breath the first time I saw Sarah Backman’s photo. Was this 19-year-old woman who looked like a professional model really a world champion arm wrestler?
But one look at her arms and I knew she was the “real thing.” And her record speaks for itself: seven-time Swedish national champion, four time European champion, five-time world champion and 2010 Nemiroff World Cup champion (right and left arm). Coming off her recent world championship win in Mesquite, Nevada, I talked with her about how she got so strong and became “The Queen of Arm Wrestling”.
When did you start arm wrestling and why this sport? - At age 14, I won a high school arm wrestling championship and repeated that victory a year later. My recreation leader begged me to start arm wrestling for real, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t like sports because I thought I was fat and ugly. But I kept winning and for the first time in my life realized that I was good at something. I started arm wrestling in earnest in November, 2006.
Did you start winning tournaments right away? - I won my first tournament after three months of competing, and won junior- and senior-level national Swedish titles after only five months. The more I won, the more I wanted to win.
Was there anyone special who encouraged you in arm wrestling? - My big inspiration and idol was world champion Heidi Andersson, who is doing a wonderful job for our sport. Also, I’m constantly encouraged by my teammates, who have always believed in me and supported me.
Where do you train for arm wrestling? - I train with my club, “Team Stockholm Armwrestling,” a group made up of about 20 people who practice twice weekly. The team is made up of all types of people of different ages and backgrounds. I almost always practice with men and seldom with women. I love my team; it’s my family.
How do you train and what are your favorite exercises? - Arm wrestling is my favorite exercise. Table-time is very important to me. But when I’m in the gymnasium I like to work out with dumbbells and do lots of cable/pulling exercises for my back, arms, shoulders and wrists. I rest when I need it and change my routine when I want to train another muscle group. It’s very important to listen to your body.
Have you had any major injuries and have they healed? - Sarah: I had a big injury in October, 2009, when I popped my left elbow tendon in practice against a large man. I heard a cracking sound and everyone thought I broke my arm. Even though there was no pain, the doctor told me not to pull for a year. This was upsetting because I was training for the 2009 Nemiroff. So I focused on training my right arm and did only light training with the left arm using rubber bands. It didn’t take long before the left arm was stronger than ever. Everything bad has something good in it…don’t listen to negative people when this happens to you. Think positive thoughts and your body will answer you with a positive recovery.
What was your toughest match? - Against Heidi Andersson at the Swedish Nationals in 2010. It was a right-arm, deep-hook match. I held her and was so close to winning, but fouled out and then she beat me. I was proud because no other Swedish women had ever held Heidi before.
What was your worst loss and best victory? - My worst loss was to a Swedish woman in the right arm semi-finals at the 2010 Worlds in Mesquite, NV. She was strong, but I gave the match away and should have won. My best victory was winning the 2008 Junior-European Championship in Norway. That win convinced me I loved arm wrestling more than anything. Winning the WAF senior title was also a great victory. And 2010 has been the year in which I won all my left-handed competitions including the Swedish Nationals, European Championship, Nemiroff World Cup and World Championship. So many goals fulfilled…it’s just mega.
Do you think you could have excelled in any other sport? - I’m very interested in weight lifting and strength sports, and I was a good short-distance sprinter. But I never liked sports before I started arm wrestling, which was why I was so overweight. As a young child I participated in gymnastics and karate.
Have you ever thought of becoming a professional model? - I honestly don’t understand why people tell me I look like a model? To be a model you have to be skinny. Or to be a fitness model you have to be toned. I’m neither skinny nor toned, and think of myself as being on the chubby side. Of course, I would love to be a model if I had the opportunity. But I would never change the way I look to fit the rules for modeling.
What are your arm wrestling goals?
- To be recognized as the best female arm wrestler. And to be an inspiration and role model to other people. Also, to stay injury free…and win everything, of course. Who are your arm wrestling heroes? - John Brzenk…the one and only! But, of course, there are other pullers who inspire me, as well. Can you tell me a little about your personal life? - I work in a fitness training store called Budo & Fitness in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. We sell supplements, equipment and clothing for all types of training. I also work a part-time job in a supermarket.