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Female Arm Wrestlers Prep for Brooklyn Muscle Match

By Meredith Hoffman | March 14, 2012 11:59am

WILLIAMSBURG — It's been five months since Roni Ginach covered herself in grease and fake tattoos, tied a bandana around her head and took to the arm-wrestling table before a boisterous crowd.

"It was the best night of my life," Ginach, 25, recalled about her first match with 5 Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling at Roberta's Pizza in Bushwick.

Ginach can't wait to do it again — this time at a loft above the Public Assembly.

The 5 Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling group, founded last year, will hold its third tournament at the North 6th Street performance space on April 20 at 9 p.m. In addition to the show of strength, there will be dancing, a burlesque act and an accordion player.

Kate McNeely, one of the group's founding members, said the matches can be a powerful feminist experience.

"It's instantly gratifying empowerment," said McNeely, who also co-founded the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling in 2008.

"Here you are as a woman doing a strength-based activity... It's a whole new way of dealing with feminism."

Each of the eight competitors adopts a stage name and persona. They also designate a fund-raising team that solicits the crowd for "bets" — contributions that go toward a charity that benefits women.

"People throw money on the stage," said McNeely, a Goucher College graduate who now lives in Bushwick. "It's a whole new way of fundraising."

In the past, McNeely has taken on the persona of "Justin Beaver" — a female spoof on teen heartthrob Justin Bieber — the bride from the movie "Kill Bill," and other outlandish figures while competing in tournaments in New Orleans.

Now the 26-year-old, who works at a production company during the week, is happy to serve as the New York group's emcee.

Ginach is planning to don a Rosie the Riveter getup for the Public Assembly tournament, reprising the role of the World War II feminist icon she played at the last match.

"This really is a group empowering women because it helps women in need," Ginach said.

The last tournament raised $1,400 for Providence House, which provides shelter for women and children who have faced domestic abuse and assists formerly imprisoned women.

The New York City group is one of nine women's arm wrestling leagues across the country. The first group started in Charlottesville, Va., and wrestling enthusiasts nationwide are in the process of forming a consolidated nonprofit, the Collective of Lady's Arm Wrestling.

In a 5 Borough tournament, eight competitors compete in four matches during a preliminary round. The four victors compete in three semi-final matches to narrow the field to two women, who muscle it out in three contests to be named champion.

But even with the ordered format and appointed referee, the setting and the crowd easily creates confusion —  that's part of the fun, Ginach said.

"It really is more about raising awareness and raising money," she said. "It's a competition, but it's all for love."

Ginach, who is 5-feet-11, insists that women of all body types can compete.

Still, she said she is training hard for the April meet with push-ups and weight-lifting.

"I'd always loved arm wrestling but never considered there could be an outlet for it," said Ginach, who liked to challenge people in her favorite college bar to arm-wrestling matches while she was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The New York native, who currently lives in Bedford Stuyvesant, works in the corporate art world and is currently completing her masters in psychology.

"We're all women living in a city," she said of the group. "It's a bunch of beautiful women of all shapes in sizes, and very casual."

"I've had people beat me who are half my size and twice my size," said McNeely. "But anyone can be a part, because so much is about character."

There's a $5 suggested donation for the 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. event at Public Assembly, 70 North 6th St. All eight competitor slots are filled, but interested wrestlers can contact nydawls@gmail.com for information about a July tournament.