At 54, Rushmore’s Rich Lupkes is still the man in U.S. armwrestlingBILLINGS, Mont. — Many of the nation’s top heavyweight armwrestlers wish Richard Lupkes would act his age.
By: Mike Zimmer, Billings (Mont.) Gazette, Worthington Daily Globe
BILLINGS, Mont. — Many of the nation’s top heavyweight armwrestlers wish Richard Lupkes would act his age.
That’s because the 54-year-old Lupkes continues to strong-arm the competition just as he’s been doing since the mid-1970s. On Aug. 7, the strongman from Rushmore, Minn. won the Open division title for the second straight year in the U.S. Unified National Armwrestling Championships at the Billings Holiday Inn Convention Center.
The next day, Lupkes went on to win his second straight national title in the Grand Masters (50-over) division.
He earned the same double sweep at last year’s nationals in Little Rock, Ark. — plus, he won the Masters (40-over) division to top it off.
“Sometimes the (Open division) guys will say ‘Why don’t you just come on Sunday to compete with the Masters?’” smiled Shirley Lupkes, Richard’s wife. “But they’re nice about it … they know Richard just loves the competition.”
“And we drove 700 miles to get here … we may as well get our money’s worth,” added Richard with a smile.
Lupkes has been getting his money’s worth, and a lot more, since he picked up the sport of armwrestling in 1975.
The hulking 6-foot-3, 315-pound Lupke, a corn and soybean farmer, has never had any formal training in armwrestling and over the years has rarely practiced. But that hasn’t stopped him from winning two world championships (1988-89) and six national championships.
“Richard is a genetic freak of nature,” said Bob Brown of Riverton, Utah, a fellow Masters division competitor and a renowned trainer of championship armwrestlers. “In terms of raw strength, he is the strongest person I’ve ever known. Let me put it this way — if 20 years ago Richard would have gotten involved in the World’s Strongest Man competition, there is no doubt in my mind he would have won it multiple times.”
Brown added that Lupkes’ brute strength has helped him overcome his lack of technique in armwrestling.
“From a technical standpoint, he’s not very good,” said Brown. “But he’s just so ungodly strong that you can’t beat him … you try to bend his wrist back and you just can’t do it. Richard’s technique is grip, squeeze and go straight sideways. A lot of strong guys try it that way, but none of them are as effective as Richard.
“And the best thing is he’s crazy nice. As intimidating and scary as he looks up at the table, he’s about the nicest guy in the world.”
Modest, too. Lupkes smiled and shook his head in disagreement when told of Brown’s praise, insisting that he enjoys coming to events like the U.S. Nationals “to see old friends and to meet new friends.”
“It’s just fun to still be competing,” he said. “I had some injuries back in the late 80s and I quit armwrestling from about 1990 to 2007. I think I’m less intense this time around … it’s easier to lose now. I think that comes with age. Now if I lose to a good opponent, it’s not so bad.”
Lupkes rarely loses, and he continues to overcome injuries. At the 2008 U.S. Nationals, he suffered a torn bicep muscle. “The doctor said it looked like the head of a mop … it was just blown up,” said Lupkes. “He figured if I got 40 percent of the strength back in the bicep, I’d be doing pretty well.”
His massive bicep fully recovered, and a year after that injury Lupkes won the triple crown at last year’s U.S. Nationals, winning the Open, Masters and Grand Masters championships.
Four months later, Lupkes went under the knife again — this time having major back surgery to repair disc damage in his back. That was Dec. 14, and by February he was back doing farm chores and lifting weights twice a week.
“I’ve been lucky to be able to come back from the injuries,” he said. “I try to stay in good shape … I think that helps. I try to work out each muscle group twice a week. It’s good to keep moving and keep active.”
On Saturday, Lupkes was the oldest competitor in the Open division by 19 years. At the WAF World Championships this December in Mesquite, Texas, Brown estimates that Lupkes will likely be at least 15 years older than the next-oldest entry.
“But don’t count him out,” said Brown. “Richard is one of the top 5 or 10 heavyweights in the world. As a fan of the sport, I know I’m looking forward to the Worlds being in the U.S. this year so I can watch Richard compete. In my opinion, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will win the Grand Masters … I’m just excited to see how he does in the Open class.”