What does it mean to be strong? Some would say it's the ability to move massive amounts of weight; others, the power to look adversity in the face and come out the other side. Both are technically correct. Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions of strength, including: "the quality or state of being strong : capacity for exertion or endurance" and "power to resist force."
Both ideas of strength could be found at Silverados in Swannanoa on Saturday. The third annual "Over the Top" arm wrestling tournament brought around 80 competitors to the backstage to lock hands and find out who would give in last.
"The best words I ever heard were you've got to be agile, mobile, and hostile," smiled tournament organizer Bobby Searcy. "You've got to have all three '-iles.'"
Even at 56-years old, Searcy's arms need the sleeveless tournament shirt he's rocking. It would not surprise you at all to know he's a former competitive arm wrestler after looking at his biceps.
"To get to where you've got a handful of titles and you're holding them out," he described, recounting his six titles apiece left-handed and right-handed. "That's a life dream."
Even though she's known Searcy for nearly three decades, Renee Burwell had never seen him compete; she hadn't even seen one of his flashy belts!
"I've seen him do many things and do it well," she laughed.
Burwell is that second definition of strength. In June she was diagnosed with Paget's Disease of the Nipple, a rare form of breast cancer. She initially received a diagnosis that nothing was wrong. However, she knew that something wasn't right and sought a second opinion.
"Go with your gut," she emphasized. "Go with what you know."
Once she learned what she was facing, that was when she showed off true strength. "My personality is pretty strong-willed and stubborn," she explained. "So usually, if someone tells me I can't do something then that's when I usually proceed to fight and beat it and whatever I can to prove them wrong."
She's still standing, and that's what brings us back to the arm wrestling tournament at a local watering hole in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Searcy has been using his passion to benefit others since he started "Over the Top" three years ago. This year he decided to donate all proceeds to Burwell and three other breast cancer survivors.
"I know that we do a lot of things throughout the country for breast cancer, but when it hits you personally when it hits you at home - it puts it on a different level," Burwell sighed. "So when somebody close to you says they're going to help the community, going to help raise awareness, it just means a lot.
"We're not going to cure it. We're just going to make them a little comfortable," he stated. "We're going to let them know that they are loved and people care about them."
He also made sure they had the mark of the victors they are: their very own championship belts. All smiles, Burwell defined the afternoon perfectly: "Proves strength comes in many flavors, I think."