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Give these lady arm-wrestlers a hand

By Gina Chinino

For RedEye

2:35 PM CST, February 14, 2013

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Chicagoan Sabrina Pratt invites her girlfriends over to get ready before a big night out. After picking out their outfits, doing their makeup and chanting a little to get pumped up, they make their way through Logan Square.

Seems like a typical ladies night. Except Pratt and her friends aren't ready for just any night on the town. Pratt, a.k.a. ARMageddon, is a member of The Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers, and her friends double as her entourage.

"Every wrestler has an entourage, so I wanted to come up with something that would be fun for my friends to do," said Pratt, 29, a social worker for a non-profit organization who first got involved in CLLAW in 2009. "We all dress up as this apocalyptic end-of-the-world theme."

On Saturday night at Logan Square Auditorium, the ladies of CLLAW—think of it on the same terms as WWE-style pro wrestling--will tangle for the 15th time since the event started in 2009. The offbeat competition is the brainchild of the people behind Sideshow Theatre Company, and not only entertains the audience but also raises money for a different local charity each year. Saturday's event benefits Girl's Rock! Chicago, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering girls' creative expression, positive self-esteem and community awareness through rock music.

"This is the most exciting, fun, hilarious fundraising event that you will go to all year," said Megan Smith, a.k.a. The Cutting Edge and the Sideshow Theatre Company's executive director. "It's unlike any type of event, and it's for a good cause. It's a win-win. You get to go have fun, drink, watch these ladies arm-wrestle, and then feel good about what you contributed to at the same time."

Since its start four years ago, CLLAW has gradually expanded and can even call itself part a national female arm-wrestling trend.

"It has really grown and gone from Chicago being the second place to having a league, to almost every big city in America having their own Ladies League of Arm Wrestlers," said Bess McGeorge, a.k.a. The Killer Bee, a graduate student at DePaul. "It has gotten bigger and been able to empower more women. There are so many enthusiastic people, and it's really cool to see all that--see this spread and grow."

The number of women involved with CLLAW has increased through the years, starting with just a few ladies participating to a 12-woman card fighting for the title at CLLAW XV on Saturday.

"We went from being at this small spot and now we're at the Logan Square Auditorium," said McGeorge, 31. "We've seen that Chicago really put ladies arm wrestling on the map."

Although the competitive ladies are trying to elbow through the competition and wrestle their way to the top, they can all agree one thing--they want their league to continue thriving while empowering women along the way.

"The event of CLLAW is the actualization of the idea that women can be crazy," said Erin Stevens, a.k.a. Calamity Pain, an Edgewater resident. "CLLAW creates this space where females can rock this unconventional women's event and arm-wrestle and not be limited to how they can express themselves."

Most of the lady arm wrestlers have a background in comedy or improv, which is why the event can be unpredictable and wild. But don't let their theatrics fool you: The arm-wrestling is real and the ladies of CLLAW have to be in good shape.

"You really use all your muscles and a bunch of strength. You have to be safe because it's an unpredictable event in ways," said Stevens, a 27-year-old freelance designer. "At one CLLAW a lady wrestler did injure her arm. Since then we have implemented new safety measures."

The possibility of getting hurt doesn't dissuade the ladies from competing, however. The adrenaline rush and thrill from performing is what brings the ladies of CLLAW back to each event.

"It's really fun to see the energy of the crowd and see what the other ladies are doing and get amped up from that," Smith said. "Once that room starts filling up with people, it's hard to not be excited. It's really contagious."

Gina Chinino is a RedEye special contributor.

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