There’s reminder plastered on the Utah Summer Games website: “Utahns don’t need a reminder that every year is supposed to be better than the year before.”
36-year-old Matthew Kinder is no different. He received a bronze medal in arm wrestling this year and has already set his sights on obtaining gold in 2015.
“I’m planning on doing this again and I want to take gold next year,” he said.
This year was Kinder’s first competing in the 24-year-old Utah Summer Games, an event host to over 30 different sporting competitions, many of which have age brackets from youth to adult.
Kinder is not a professional athlete. He works at the Tooele Army Depot full time. He began like most other boys, wrestling with his two brothers and playing other sports like baseball. It wasn’t until he joined the military that the competition got serious; even then it was just for fun.
“Overseas we would have the have the Italian Navy guys come over and want to arm wrestle. So we would arm wrestle them for bragging rights.”
Sometimes they would make bets, but it usually wasn’t anything serious for Kinder until this year.
“I always wanted to see how I would be against people who actually train for this sport,” he said.
It was a different experience for him because he wasn’t used to wrestling in an arena set up especially for arm wrestling with official rules and regulation tables.
“I’ve never actually been in a set up where they’ve had actual tables and referees,” he said.
It wasn’t hard for him to wrestle his buddies in an informal setting. That’s why he wanted to join the Utah Summer Games, to really test his skills.
“It didn’t prove anything wrestling my friends,” Kinder said.
This actually showed me how I needed to train more.”
Training includes more exercises for the forearm and wrist muscles than for the biceps, like most unskilled wrestlers seem to think.
“I think most guys think if you have big arms you can arm wrestle somebody, but that’s not true. You have to get your forearms and wrists a lot stronger,” he said.
Kinder points out lever lifts and towel pull ups as some of the main exercises he uses to keep in shape for arm wrestling.
“Towel pull ups are where you throw a towel over the bar and use more of your wrists to lift yourself,” he said.
As well as specific exercises that prepare him for a match, there are certain techniques and strategies that he employs as well.
“There are a lot of strategies, like turning your opponent’s wrist in or pulling someone forward and then down. You can beat somebody purely by knowing how to do that,” he said.
He’s not like some competitors who try psychological strategies.
“I don’t try to stare them down. I’m more relaxed and just focus on what I’m doing,” he said.
He figures he will find out soon enough if his competitor is a worthy opponent.
“To me, you’re either good or you’re not,” he said. “You’ll find out real quick when you get on the table.”
Being that this was his first year competing in the Utah Summer Games, he wasn’t sure how well he would do.
“Of course I wanted gold, but I was pretty surprised at how well I did against these guys,” he said. “They were pretty strong.”
Because of his experience this year, he is building a to-spec table in his garage. He also plans on entering his two young boys next year in their age divisions.
In the Utah Summer games, the kids brackets were held before the adults and Kinder found joy in watching it.
“I’d like to do coaching if there was more of a place to do it. I’m definitely going to teach my kids” he said.
He would also love to be able to teach his boys and other children how to arm wrestle for the self-confidence it brings.
“I didn’t know they had it this year, so I’d like to get them into it. They would both like to do it,” he said.
Because arm wrestling doesn’t have the national exposure of some other more popular sports, there were brackets at the Utah Summer Games that went unfilled. Kinder thinks this is because it is a little-publicized sport.
“It’s a sport that just hasn’t been as exposed as most, I think,” he said.
There are professionals who make a living in the competition circuit. One of Kinder’s favorite shows is “Game of Arms” on the AMC network.
“These are professional athletes that go out and do it every day so it exposed arm wrestling more,” he said.
One day, if money and time permits, he would love to join the Ultimate Arm Wrestling League. The prizes for this league can be tens of thousands of dollars or new cars.
“I’d love to go into that. It’s its own league of just arm wrestlers. I would have to travel quite a bit, but you can win a lot of money,” he said.
In order to prepare for next year, he takes advice from others who are more experienced than he is.
“That’s how I’ve learned my whole life. I let other people show me what they do,” he said.
Arm wrestling is a type of sport where at the table it’s a fierce competition, but when the match is over, the competitors are friendly and share stories and pat each other on the back.
“It’s competitive at the table. You get up there and arm wrestle someone. Then when it’s over you shake hands and walk away,” he said.
To better prepare for next year’s competition, Kinder has been keeping in touch via email with the referees and coordinators for the Utah Summer Games he met this year. They continue to give him advice and send him information on techniques and exercises for training.
“The coordinator of the games for arm wrestling sends me workouts and advice so I’ll keep in touch with him,” he said.
This year Kinder went to the Utah Summer Games to see how he compared to professional athletes who trained to compete in arm wrestling. Next year, like the motto of the Utah Summer Games said, he will be better than the year before. He will be prepared to win the gold.
“I’ll train harder. I think that’s what it’s gonna take for me to be better and win next year,” he said.