0118 how to lose gracefully j5amr6

Image: Jack Dylan

I’m an overachiever. My party trick is arm wrestling. When I learned the Warrior Room, a gym in Milwaukie, holds an annual charity ladies’ arm wrestling match, I was in.

I signed up with the name Abigail Guniway, a play on Portland’s own Abigail Duniway, the prominent turn-of-the-century women’s rights activist. I knew the competition was supposed to be mainly for show, GLOW-style; nonetheless, I considerably stepped up my strength training.

By the time of the match, I could do 20 pull-ups. To promote the event and sell more tickets, I took to social media, promising to “put the suffer back in women’s suffrage.” On game day, I was nervous but ready. In my costume, I looked straight out of 1905. Friends came to cheer me on. However, I was matched against the event’s reigning champ. “This’ll be fun,” she smiled sweetly with a wink. As I walked onstage, I theatrically tore my sleeves off, slammed a glass of tequila ... and promptly had my ass handed to me. She beat me three times on both arms in under five minutes. That woman probably lifts 50-pound bells with her wrists alone, and had the technique down. She beat everyone, heavyweights included.

I consoled myself by saying that I’d lost only to the champ. But, honestly, I was humiliated. I’m not afraid of taking risks, but losing so swiftly was a total psychic embuggerance. After drinks with my friends, I spent the night on my couch, in the fetal position.

I spent days nursing my battered ego (and tendonitis in my elbows). And then I quietly admitted my defeat on social media. Unlike my inner drill sergeant, my friends responded with comforts and kindnesses. My husband bought me fail flowers. “Not winning after a big show of bravado is the emotional equivalent of putting a nipple into an electric pencil sharpener,” wrote one friend. “I still think you’re a badass.” She’s right. The experience taught me two lessons: first, I need more weight training; more important, I can be kind to myself even when I’m not winning.

If Abigail Duniway could keep fighting after women’s suffrage lost in Oregon five times, Abigail Guniway can rebound, too.

Heather Arndt Anderson is a local food historian. Her newest book, Berries: A Global History, comes out in April.
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