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Mark Johnston, Daily Herald
In a June 7, 2012 photo Wendie Edwards takes part in a scripture study class with her children Rocwell, 12, right, and Radyn, 9, at their home in West Mountain, Utah. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Mark Johnston )

WEST MOUNTAIN, Utah — Approaching her competitor at the table, Wendie Edwards of West Mountain looks like she's in the wrong place. In a dress shirt, waist jacket, high heels and a long, summer skirt that blows in the wind along with her long hair, she looks more ready for church than an arm wrestling competition at the Utah Summer Games. Upon joining hands, though, Edwards' opponent quickly realizes that this mother of nine is no newcomer to the sport.

Arm wrestling may seem like a strange sport to many — a novelty sport, as Edwards calls it.

"Someone asked me, 'Where do you compete in arm wrestling, in bars?' " she said, laughing.

But for Edwards it's just one of a few different events she actively competes in to demonstrate her gifted strength, something she's been doing from an early age.

Raised in an athletic family, Edwards began jumping on a trampoline soon after she could walk. At age 9 she began performing on trampolines with her family as part of a sponsored, nationwide tour.

"We were putting on trampoline shows three times a day, five days a week," her father, Albert Carter of Provo, said. "By the end of the year she was doing 49 back somersaults in a row, and that's amazing for a young girl."

Shortly thereafter, Edwards surprised her parents once again.

"One day she came home and told us that she had beat all the sixth-grade boys in arm wrestling. In the seventh grade she came home and informed us that she'd beat all the ninth-grade boys in arm wrestling," Carter said.

That trend continued all the way through high school.

When recounted by Edwards and members of her family, it sounds like the introduction to a superhero movie — Edwards, the petite head cheerleader and homecoming queen, a talented athlete and musician, beating her male classmates in bench press and arm wrestling contests.

"Periodically (classmates) would put someone else up to it saying, 'You couldn't even beat our cheerleader,' and she'd put them down, embarrassing the boys," her father said.

At age 14, before high school, Edwards had competed in an open arm wrestling competition. There she had faced off against women more than twice her own age and beat all but one nearly double her size.

"You had some ladies there that were pretty strong, that used to do their wrestling in bars for drinks," Carter said.

It was no surprise that Edwards competed in power lifting throughout college while studying nursing at Brigham Young University then continued a regular exercise routine after settling down to have a family and throughout her first eight pregnancies.

"I worked out throughout all my pregnancies except this last child. I was tired," Edwards said.

That change in routine ended up having greater repercussions than expected.

"The moment I stopped living the laws of health I stopped enjoying good health. Like when Superman discovers he had a weakness to kryptonite, it was a wake-up call," she said.

Edwards suffered her first complications throughout the pregnancy and, having gained a lot of weight, was devastated at how different her body was afterward.

"If I wanted to age with any style and grace, there was a price to be paid," she said.

In 2004 Edwards jumped back into a regular workout schedule and by 2006 felt strong and confident enough to consider competing, using it as a motivator to maintain the healthful lifestyle she had missed so much.

Working out with trainers, she quickly impressed them with her strength, and soon they were convincing Edwards to enter more competitions. At the 2010 Utah Summer Games, her coaches talked her into competing in Olympic lifting, power lifting and arm wrestling. Edwards took home gold medals in all three.

While weight lifting events were her main focus, she continued to arm wrestle competitively with great success, never losing.

Then in 2010, in her finals match at the Utah Summer Games, Edwards faced off against a competitor named Lisa Wolfey.

"She walked up to the table and she was beautiful. Long hair, dress and high heels," Edwards recalled.

But upon taking Wolfey's hand, Edwards knew she was in trouble. After a long battle between the two, Wolfey handed Edwards just her second loss since she was 14 years old, a humbling experience.

It wasn't a complete loss for Edwards. Shortly after the match the umpires approached her to congratulate her on putting up such a good fight. As it turned out, Wolfey was a former USAF Unified National Arm Wrestling champion and Edwards had just given her a run for her money.

Edwards also learned a valuable lesson from the matchup.

"I realized that high heels were part of her strategy," she said, and picked up a pair of her own before returning to competition this year, now a little taller for a greater advantage.

Height advantage is a small part of the overall strategy and technique that, along with great strength, make Edwards an intimidating opponent.

While she dressed up for this year's Utah Summer Games, new heels and skirt, it didn't take long for her opponent to realize Edwards's strength.

Along with confident eye contact, the first grip is important, made very tight as an intimidation strategy. It can be an exhausting process as the competitors adjust their hand position over and over, making sure they have it just right before the referee starts the match.

When the starting signal is given, contestants, already gripping tight to intimidate, still want to have enough energy for an explosive first move. From there technique and pure strength take over. Matches can be over in milliseconds or last for what may seem like an eternity for those involved.

"The look, the grab, the pull, the push, the gold," as Edwards orders it, and exactly what she did this year against a strong opponent at the Utah Summer Games. But a rematch against Wolfey has yet to happen.

With all her success in competition, Edwards doesn't let it get to her head or become an obsession. While she maintains a strict, six-day-a-week training schedule, it's well balanced with the rest of her extremely busy schedule.

Working as an intensive care charge nurse, writing books and home schooling a number of her younger children take priority. But plenty of help around the house from her family allow Edwards to continue training and maintaining her gifted strength.

Further down the line Edwards is open to competing more and maybe even challenging some weight lifting world records in her age group.

No matter what the future holds, though, Edwards is happy with all she's accomplished by returning to an active and healthful lifestyle.