He’s beaten lack of confidence, lack of size and little knowledge of the sport – now his right arm is going to beat the biggest and best in the business.
As Ryan ‘Blue’ Bowen walks into the Redbank Plains Pig ‘n’ Whistle he stops for a moment, takes out his mobile phone and records a quick video of himself.
It’s for later, to share with his growing fan base what he has been up to today.
With a beaming smile, the 32-year-old is confident, likeable and engaging. So much so in fact that it’s difficult to imagine him any other way.
It wasn’t always like this though for Australia’s top arm wrestler, who this weekend will face his toughest challenge in the sport yet.
Driven to compete
Bowen has always been driven to compete and from a young age he had high ambitions.
“When I was three years old, my dad asked me what I wanted to do and I said my goal in life was to play for Australia, literally at age three that is what I said,” he said.
“I really enjoy the thrill of competition and I’m never been one to shy away from the work required to compete at the highest level.”
Growing up, Bowen put his competitive streak to good use in the sport of tennis.
He excelled and by age 17 was ranked eighth in Australia as a junior with a professional career seemingly in reach.
Then it all changed. Beset with performance anxiety and a loss of confidence, Bowen’s lifelong dream of being a professional tennis player and representing Australia came crashing down.
“I did get to the point where my performance anxiety overtook me and I didn’t think I was good enough to beat the guys who were at that level,” he said.
“Where I feel I made the error and where performance anxiety started to creep in was I mistakenly made the assumption that the people who were better than me were stronger or faster. I felt like they had more physical capabilities.
“I assumed the people who were better than me were always going to be too good.
“What I failed to recognise is it’s not about the physical capabilities, it’s more about time spent in the sport, the study of the sport and becoming self-aware.”
Chance encounter renews spark
With his dream seemingly lost Bowen turned his attention to other pursuits.
“I said goodbye to the dream of being a professional sportsperson, got married, went and joined the army and eventually opened my own retail supplements store,” he said.
One day five years ago a product distributor came into the store and challenged Bowen to an arm wrestle.
He lost, but his competitive streak kicked in and he boldly declared ‘next month when you come back I’m going to beat you’.
“When he walked out the door I jumped onto the internet and started researching arm wrestling techniques,” he said.
“Straight away I realised that arm wrestling (champions) had an older average age, the average age of world champions was about 42.
“I immediately recognised I hadn’t missed the boat and I jumped on it straight away. It was that same day, right then and there that I decided I’m going to go for world champion of arm wrestling.”
- Despite its name arm wrestling is actually more about the hand and wrist.
- The world’s fastest pin happened in eight one hundredths of a second.
- The heaviest opponent Ryan has beaten weighed 215kg.
Student of the sport
Bowen became a student of the sport, determined not to fall victim again to the performance anxiety that crippled his tennis career.
“I said to myself there might be a thousand losses between me being at my start point and me being world champion, but I’m actually going to deliberately celebrate every loss and say ‘that is one step closer’,” he said.
“I consider myself a student of the biomechanics of the sport. I don’t look that strong, I’m not that big but I’ve beaten people who are twice my size and it’s not that they’re not good arm wrestlers, it’s my technique.
“Everything your opponent does in an arm wrestling match has an effect on your own access to power, so for me studying the biomechanics and taking that approach has led me to become very instinctive with my movements.”
He used his skills to great effect most recently at the Queensland Titles held at this year’s Ekka where he took down an opponent in the Super Heavyweight division who weighed 155kg. Bowen weighed just 80kg.
Sharp rise to the top
Bowen’s rise in the sport has been sharp, going from an unknown to claiming three Australian titles and an Asian Pacific Title in five years.
His following has grown along the way and he is conscious to always keep his supporters front of mind.
“I’m trying to make arm wrestling a career, I don’t want it to just be a hobby,” he said.
“I share videos showing what I’m up to because it’s a great way to let people know who I am and hopefully through seeing what I do they will get behind me.”
He is hoping for plenty of local support this weekend when he squares off against the second best arm wrestler in the world American Justin ‘Bama Bull’ Bishop.
“Justin will bring a lot of power, he is a multiple American champion and has finished second on three occasions while competing for a world title,” he said.
“He’s an intense character and he’s not easily intimidated but I think he has a lot of weight on his shoulders because he is not going to want to let America down.”
Bowen has bulked up to 95kg and is confident Bishop will face “the best version of me”.
Bowen and Bishop will battle it out this Sunday, October 29 over six rounds at Redbank Plains Pig ‘n’ Whistle from 4pm to 7pm. Entry is free.
Bowen is confident he will win, but if he doesn’t it won’t be the end of his journey to become world champion, rather just another lesson along the way.