The air was electric inside Nemaska’s fitness centre the night of August 2. A large crowd had gathered in the basketball arena to witness the strongest wrists and forearms in Cree territory vie for the right to be called Arm Wrestling Champion of the Quebec Cree Nation. As the night progressed the cheering turned into a roar accompanied by the pounding of tables and the walls.

Mary Jane George and Tracey Coonishish drove the gathering into a frenzy as they battled like bloodthirsty Amazon gladiators, their legs braced against the steel table. After several attempts their fight had to be postponed when they locked in a hard fought tie. But they would come back to fight again. The men in the audience shook in their seats. In the end George Anne Coonishish would fall to Christina Trapper from Mistissini.

The crowd teased big John Bosum with a loud cheer when he lost easily his first time up wrestling a smaller guy Elton Salt. He reacted sheepishly as he went back to his refereeing role. Later, he claimed some wily strategizing. “I let him beat me so he could take on Randy Gunner.” Bosum would redeem himself and place first when he went up against the lefties. “My weak hand.” He said.

Hometown hero and Mistissini’s champ from a few weeks back, Abel Jolly went up against his fiercest competitor, the hulking Randy Gunner with wrists the size of Tom Cruise’s thighs. The two warriors faced each other like enraged bulls. There is about an 801b difference between them but it didn’t make much of a difference. Jolly is all about technique while Gunner is clearly brute strength. Jolly, it seems, had been saving his energy until the end and with lightning speed he hooked and slammed Gunner’s arm down winning another championship.

This was 27-year-old middleweight Jolly’s fourth meet. “I used to arm wrestle in bars for fun and drinks,” he smiled.

The show went late into the night ending well past midnight. Most of the crowd, close to 200, stayed until the very end. “There’s more interest in the sport now,” said Bosum.

Bosum has been arm wrestling competitively for four years but has trained for seven years. Jolly and Bosum are both competing in the provincials in Quebec City August 16. Bosum hopes to attend the Nationals in Moose Jaw August 30 and would like to go on to the World Championship in Kelowna, BC, sometime in December.

…a few weeks later…

Contacted on August 19, just days after his fight in Quebec City, Bosum sounded positive and excited. He ranked fourth in the right arm section of his category and fifth in the left arm. “I qualified for the Nationals in Moose Jaw,” he announced proudly.

Bosum described the competition as being “cool and fun.” What better words could be used to express what it was like to compete against former World Champion Dennis Dubreuil and former Canadian Champion Sylvain Perron.

As for Jolly, he ranked second in the middleweight category. Not bad for a guy who arm wrestled in bars for free drinks! Unable to reach Jolly, Bosum commented on whether he would go to Moose Jaw as well. “I asked Abel to come with me, the people in Quebec City said that if he went he could make it into the top five of his category in all of Canada,” Bosum said. “He thinks it is too far, but maybe he’ll change his mind and come anyways.”

When asked if he was looking forward to going to Moose Jaw on August 30 Bosum let out a long sigh. “Honestly, it is a big effort for me to get there. I need sponsors and nobody is returning my phone calls. I can’t go there by myself. The community says it wants to help us but it makes it so complicated. I am doing this for the youth, to motivate them because we can’t always rely on social services and the band council. People are making it very hard for me though.”

Bosum has a good point. The Cree people are always being encouraged to reach high, to be successful and to participate in local activities. Both Bosum and Jolly have done that and have now reached the next level. Without help from the communities for sponsorship their journey stops here.

“I’m a nobody,” Bosum continues. “I am just practicing what I preach, for the youth, but I need help.”

Even if they are not able to make it to Moose Jaw, hopefully someone out there will realize that the Cree people, especially the youth, need to see Bosum and Jolly make it and will reach out to them so they can continue on their path to success.