For Lady Arm Wrestlers, It's Brawn Or Bust

  • Jayme Dyer is a member of a women's arm wrestling league based in Durham, N.C.. In June, she participated in a national armwrestling event in Charlottesville, Va., to raise money for charity. Her alter-ego is named "Ze Dirty Butcher."
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    Jayme Dyer is a member of a women's arm wrestling league based in Durham, N.C.. In June, she participated in a national armwrestling event in Charlottesville, Va., to raise money for charity. Her alter-ego is named "Ze Dirty Butcher."
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • "SuperCLAW" is a women's arm wrestling event that draws competitors from leagues around the county. Each woman dons an alter-ego for an evening of sport and theatrics.
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    "SuperCLAW" is a women's arm wrestling event that draws competitors from leagues around the county. Each woman dons an alter-ego for an evening of sport and theatrics.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Dyer's mother struggled with bipolar disorder; Dyer was removed from her home at age 16 after watching her mother try to commit suicide.
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    Dyer's mother struggled with bipolar disorder; Dyer was removed from her home at age 16 after watching her mother try to commit suicide.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Dyer begins her transformation into her alter-ego "Ze Dirty Butcher" — a burlesque dancer who couldn't make the cut and was forced to become a butcher instead.
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    Dyer begins her transformation into her alter-ego "Ze Dirty Butcher" — a burlesque dancer who couldn't make the cut and was forced to become a butcher instead.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • SuperCLAW is one part church bake-sale, one part roller derby, and one part striptease. The audience gives money to their favorite characters, which is then donated to women-centered charities.
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    SuperCLAW is one part church bake-sale, one part roller derby, and one part striptease. The audience gives money to their favorite characters, which is then donated to women-centered charities.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Dyer — as "Ze Dirty Butcher" — strolls the streets of Charlottesville on her way to SuperCLAW, the "mother of all brawls."
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    Dyer — as "Ze Dirty Butcher" — strolls the streets of Charlottesville on her way to SuperCLAW, the "mother of all brawls."
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • "Ze Dirty Butcher," (right) locks elbows with "Pain Fonda" in her first match of the night. Dyer lost the bout, but got her pride back in a dance-off rematch.
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    "Ze Dirty Butcher," (right) locks elbows with "Pain Fonda" in her first match of the night. Dyer lost the bout, but got her pride back in a dance-off rematch.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Charlottesville is the home of the women's arm wrestling movement, which now has about a dozen chapters forming across the country.
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    Charlottesville is the home of the women's arm wrestling movement, which now has about a dozen chapters forming across the country.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Dyer is greeted by her entourage of burlesque pigs after losing her match. Her husband Cliff, seen here with a pig nose on his forehead, was there to greet her.
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    Dyer is greeted by her entourage of burlesque pigs after losing her match. Her husband Cliff, seen here with a pig nose on his forehead, was there to greet her.
    Brad Horn for NPR
  • Dyer holds hands with her mother during her wedding parade in June. Despite a rocky childhood that left scars, Dyer has repaired her relationship with her mom, earned a PhD in yeast genetics, and gained confidence through participation in women's arm wrestling.
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    Dyer holds hands with her mother during her wedding parade in June. Despite a rocky childhood that left scars, Dyer has repaired her relationship with her mom, earned a PhD in yeast genetics, and gained confidence through participation in women's arm wrestling.
    Courtesy of Jessie Gladin-Kramer

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The universe of great theatrical sports is rather small. There's roller derby and wrestling, but that's about as far as it goes.

But there's a new addition to this little corner of the sports world: women's arm wrestling. Jayme Dyer didn't know what to expect when she signed up for her first event in Durham, N.C., two years ago.

The sport seems to combine all the right ingredients — promising empowering, women-centered bawdiness that raises money for good causes. Not to mention some suggestive outfits.

"The first time I competed in arm wrestling, I had no idea what I was doing," says Dyer, a woman in her mid-20s with short brown hair and a slight physique. "And I won."

"I won the first round. I won the second round. And I almost won the championship round," she says. "I was like, 'Holy cow, if this is how well I can do when I haven't even been training, then man, I gotta start lifting weights."

Sitting on a bed in a Charlottesville, Va., hotel room, you'd have no idea by looking at her that she was about to make a transformation into a lingerie-clad burlesque entertainer. She looks more like the person she is during her day-job: a genetics researcher at Duke University.

"It's theatrical, and it's crazy, and wild, and really, really fun," she says.

Jayme Dyer, aka "Ze Dirty Butcher," waits backstage before her match. i i

hide captionJayme Dyer, aka "Ze Dirty Butcher," waits backstage before her match.

Brad Horn for NPR
Jayme Dyer, aka "Ze Dirty Butcher," waits backstage before her match.

Jayme Dyer, aka "Ze Dirty Butcher," waits backstage before her match.

Brad Horn for NPR

Dyer represented Durham at the very first national championships of the Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers — or CLAW — held in Charlottesville this summer. The competition, dubbed SuperCLAW, brought together eight women from around the nation for a DIY sport that's spreading from coast to coast — and may soon have leagues in Europe and South America.

Dyer's character is an invention named "Ze Dirty Butcher" — someone who wanted to be a burlesque dancer but couldn't make the cut. Dyer had a professional hair and make-up treatment before the bout, including a liberal splattering of fake blood on her minimally-clad body. For a woman who only wears makeup a few times a year, it was a dramatic transformation.

There are a range of women who compete — some with a better chance of winning than others. Dyer knew that with her slight stature she didn't have great odds for glory, but for her it was more about raising money for women's charities than taking home the title.

She grew up with a single mom in Colorado Springs, Co. At 16, she was removed from her home after witnessing her mom's suicide attempt. Her mother was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"I felt like Pig-Pen," the shabby boy from the Peanuts comics, Dyer says. "I remember walking around with this cloud of dirt. I remember walking to work and thinking that everyone driving by could see this stain on my soul. And I had to survive either by shutting down or by looking at it. And I looked at it."

Ze Dirty Butcher, she says, is a big part of her growth.

"I want to be happy. I want to be more relaxed. Letting go is not easy for me whatsoever. I think the costume helps with it. I put on this costume, I put on this different character, and Jayme doesn't have to let go anymore. Because, it's 'Ze Dirty Butcher' and that's what she does."

Dyer wrestled two different women, and eventually lost to a bruiser of a woman who ended up taking home the crown.

Standing outside in front of the historic theater after the bout, she didn't look like she'd suffered defeat. In fact, she beamed.

"I didn't win the championship, I knew I wouldn't," Dyer said. "But the crowd loved me."

It was late, but the downtown pedestrian arcade was still full with the late-night crowd. Many people made double-takes at Dyer in her heels and red lingerie.

"What I love about women's arm wrestling is that it's about women being strong. And in our culture, what makes a woman sexy is being really skinny – and skinny women aren't strong," she said. "These arm wrestling events have women go up on stage and flex their muscles, and the crowd goes wild."

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