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Antigonish native golden on international arm wrestling stage

Chris Scott (left), Garry Kell and Paula O'Connell celebrate their medal wins at the International Federation of Armwrestling World Championships in Rumia, Poland. Kell and O'Connell are Antigonish natives. CONTRIBUTED
Chris Scott (left), Garry Kell and Paula O'Connell celebrate their medal wins at the International Federation of Armwrestling World Championships in Rumia, Poland. Kell and O'Connell are Antigonish natives. CONTRIBUTED - Corey LeBlanc
LOWER SACKVILLE, N.S. —

SACKVILLE - Paula O’Connell is a world champion.     
The Antigonish native, who makes her home in Sackville, N.S. garnered gold (left arm) and bronze (right arm) medals last month at the International Federation of Armwrestling World Championships in Rumia, Poland.     
It was the second time on the international stage for O’Connell; she collected a fourth-place finish in Hungary in 2017.     
“They were long, hard battles,” she said of the final two victories that earned her a spot at the top of the podium.     
She had to defeat the same opponent – back-to-back – in matches that lasted three and four minutes, respectively.     
“I was really, really sore all over,” O’Connell said, with a laugh, when asked how she felt after the gold-medal victory.     
And, of course, she was overjoyed with having reached her golden goal.     
“It was a tremendous feeling,” O’Connell added.     
She said her preparation, both mentally and physical, in the lead-up to the international competition paid dividends, noting the contribution of her coach and fellow gold-medalist Chris Scott.
“Of course, you always wonder if you did enough,” O’Connell said.

‘Fell in love’     
Her journey to international gold began just more than a decade ago, when she travelled to Ottawa to watch a friend compete at the Canadian Armwrestling Federation Championships.     
During an after-party, she was among a group of people who gave arm wrestling a try. And, from there, people start to encourage her to take up the sport.     
“I fell in love with it,” O’Connell said.     
While training and developing her skills, she began climbing the ladder in arm wrestling, which included multiple appearances, and several medal wins, on the national stage.     
“Sometimes it was really hard,” O’Connell said of battling, at times, much heavier opponents.     
At that time, there was only one classification – heavyweight – for female athletes. Now, she competes in the lightweight division.     
And, on the international stage where she fought in the masters (40+) category, O’Connell battled younger women.     
“It doesn’t make it any easier,” the 56-year-old said, with a laugh.     
Whether it is preparing for a heavier or younger opponent O’Connell sticks to a four-day-per-week regimen that includes cardio and weight training.     
“You use every part of your body,” she noted, including abdominals, which she described as crucial.     
There is also weekly training on the table with her teammates at the Sackville Arm Wrestling Club.     
“We really push each other,” O’Connell said.

Family affair     
The sport has become a family affair for O’Connell; her two granddaughters are now arm wrestlers.     
Seven-year-old Kylie Mattice, when she was four, won a national championship in Halifax in 2017.  
“We started playing around when she was three,” O’Connell noted.     
Kylie’s older sister, 13-year-old Brooke-Lynne Mattice, has also embraced the sport.     
“It is perfect for kids,” she said.     
O’Connell described arm wrestling as a “sport for all ages,” considering the participation of people from children to seniors.     
She noted arm wrestling in this day and age of the high cost of playing many sports, especially for children, does not require much spending, other than entry fees for competition.     
“And, of course, it is a lot of fun, too. You meet so many great people,” O’Connell said, noting the many friendships she has formed from arm wrestling.     
When expanding on what appeals to her about arm wrestling, she said “it helps keep you in shape.”     
“You have to train hard to be ready to compete,” O’Connell added.

What’s next?     
Even though she now has a pair of international medals around her neck, O’Connell is not resting on her laurels.     
She plans to travel to the 2020 Canadian Armwrestling Federation Championships with her granddaughters in Winnipeg.     
The 2020 International Federation of Armwrestling World Championships in Orlando, Florida is also on her radar.     
“I want to defend my gold,” O’Connell said.

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