CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
The list of great theatrical sports is a pretty short one. There's roller derby, there's wrestling, and, well, that's about it. So Jayme Dyer didn't know what to expect two years ago when she signed up for a women's arm wrestling event in Durham, North Carolina. But for her, it had all the right ingredients: it empowered women, it was bawdy, it was fun, and it raised money for causes like domestic violence shelters.
So this past summer, she found herself representing Durham at the very first National Championships of CLAW, the Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers. Producer Brad Horn followed Dyer through multiple costume changes as she set out to bring home the championship cape.
JAYME DYER: The first time I competed in arm wrestling, I had no idea what I was doing, and I'd never arm wrestled anybody before. And I won.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All performers are allowed two alcoholic drinks during the event.
DYER: I won the first round.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Wrestlers may not induce any messy substance...
DYER: I won the second round.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Performers may not reveal genitalia.
DYER: And I almost won the championship round. And I was like, holy cow, if this is how well I can do when I haven't even been training, then man, I got to start lifting weights.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HEADLEE: CLAW is a Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers, which is the overarching umbrella of many smaller leagues throughout the country. SuperCLAW is the first arm wrestling event with one representative from each league coming together and arm wrestling each other.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let me bring out some special people for you. We got eight, eight, eight lovely beauties from all over the country here tonight.
DYER: I'm competing at Ze Dirty Butcher, somebody who wanted to be a burlesque dancer but couldn't make the cut. So she got a job, which happened to be at the local butcher shop. But she never gave up her dream of wanting to be a burlesque dancer.
The woman who's going to win tomorrow night, I'm fairly certain she's going to be a large woman. It's not going to be me.
DYER: But I am going to pull a T-bone steak out of my underwear. Look, I'm really excited to have a professional do my hair. I wear makeup about three times a year. OK. But not like, Mohawk. More like, bring it all up, and then maybe have some curls. So we're mixing Mohawk with burlesque.
I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Single mom, single daughter. It was the two of us kind of against the world. And she has bipolar disorder, and we didn't know that until after I left. But when I was 16, she attempted suicide, and I saw it. And the police took me out of her home.
I felt like Pig-Pen. I was walking around with this cloud of dirt. And I remember walking to work and thinking everybody who's driving by could see this stain on my soul. They all know that I'm this horrible person. And I had to survive either by shutting down or by looking at it. And I looked at it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So where's that outfit from?
DYER: (as Ze Dirty Butcher) That is a good question. Sometimes it is from France, sometimes Jamaica and sometimes Germany.
DYER: I want to be happy. I want to be able to be more relaxed. Letting go is not easy for me, whatsoever. But I think the costume helps with it. I think I put on this costume, and I put on this different character, and Jayme doesn't have to let go anymore because it's Ze Dirty Butcher. And, you know, that's what she does.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She'll slice, dice and cut you. Eww. Gross. It's Ze Dirty Butcher.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, hey.
(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
DYER: I didn't win the championship. I wasn't strong enough. There were some very strong women. I knew there would be. But the crowd loved me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DYER: What I love about women's arm wrestling is that it is about women being strong. And in our culture, what makes a woman sexy is being really skinny. And skinny women aren't strong. These arm wrestling events have women go up on stage and flex their muscles, and the crowd goes wild.
HEADLEE: That's Jayme Dyer, professional arm wrestler. CLAW's next event will be Friday in Washington, D.C. To see photos of Jayme's vaudevillian run at the arm wrestling championship, visit npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.