It was the summer of 1992 when the world of arm wrestling had the first chance to see then Barb Schlegel. There was a charity arm wrestling tournament in West Lorne, Ontario. Barb, who grew up in the area, decided to participate in the tournament. She was always good at arm wrestling and thought that she would give it a try on a professional table. She had always excelled at any sport that she competed at and thought that this would be an exciting new challenge. Barb had gone undefeated as a amateur boxer going 13-0 ( no one got past the first round), she had won a body building contest, and had still held multiple high school track records in Ontario. She had little trouble beating the defending champion and thought this would be a sport that she would enjoy. The referee at that time told her that she had more natural talent then any other woman that he had ever seen and that she should try the next tournament which was 2 weeks away. There would be more competition there because it was a money tournament. That referee was Mark Zalepa.
Barb participated at the next tournament and defeated all again, including the Ontario champion. Still not understanding the magnitude of what she just did, she walked back to her seat and never thought anything of it. After the tournament she was approached by the referee again and told about the Canadian championships in Ottawa and that she would have a good chance at doing well. She would have a much stronger class of competition because the many time Canadian & World champion, Nancy Locke, would be there. She decided that was the next tournament she would attend. It was a month away and the referee, Mark, offered to help show her some techniques and positions that might help her if she was interested. She was very interested in finding out more about the sport because of her background in competing at a high level she knew that nothing came easy and she would have to practice to become better if she planned on competing professionally.
The weekend of the Canadians had arrived. She had not had a chance to practice with Mark because of conflicting work schedules. She did keep in contact with Mark during that month and saw that there was more then just the sport she was interested in. It was a huge tournament and to make it more interesting, it was being covered by TSN (The Sports Network). Barb placed second to Nancy but not before beating 3 other Provincial champions. Nancy had way too much speed and experience to have Barb give her a challenge. The fire was sparked in heart to become the best at the sport. The fire was also started with Mark.
Within 2 weeks Mark had moved in. They had found out while at the Canadians they had feelings for each other from the first time that met. Unknown to Mark until years later that Barb left her boyfriend the day after the first tournament and told her mother that she thought she met the man she was going to be married to. Mark had the same feelings but didn't want to scare Barb off if the feelings weren't the same way for Barb. He knew at that time that she was destined to become the best and did not want to spoil that by trying to ask her out. They have been together ever since and were married October 15, 1994. Almost two years to the day of her first Canadian championship.
Barb trained hard for the next year hoping to get the chance to beat Nancy at the 1993 Canadian championships which were going to be held in Regina, Sask.. She lost to Nancy again at the Ontario championships and was more determined then ever to be on top. There was a twist to the story that helped Barb out and that was that Shirley Issac, another many time Canadian and World champion was going to be in the same class. Everyone thought that Nancy and Shirley would be the two to watch. Barb shocked the arm wrestling world by becoming the champion in the 60 kg class with both left and right arms. Next - the WAF World championships in Edmonton, Alberta.
The World championships went the same way as the Canadians. Barb was not the favorite and was over looked. She walked away the 1993 World arm wrestling champion in the women's 60kg class. It was all the drive she needed to train harder and become a top name in the sport.
In 1994 Barb thought that she would not compete at the WAF World championships in Sweden, but would rather try the biggest tournament at the time which was the Yukon Jack. Barb has stated from the time that she started the sport that she wanted the challenge of beating the best. Seeing that the Yukon Jack was an open weight class she thought that that would be more exciting to try. She placed third behind Dot Jones & Liane Desfrene. She beat many ladies bigger than her and thought that this was the direction she want to go. She wanted to win the World championships in as many weight classes as she could. This was not an ego thing, but a challenge to do something no other woman has ever done. To win the World championships in 4 different weight classes.
The next year would turn out to be the most rewarding year for Barb in her life. She achieved the greatest title on earth, Mom. On October 2, 1995 an 8 lbs 2 1/2 ounce baby boy arrived. Chase Alexander Zalepa was born and thankfully he has Barb's huge hands. Maybe a third World champion in the family? Only time will tell.
With a year off from the sport Barb knew that she would have a lot of catching up to do. She trained harder then ever on her way to wining her fifth and sixth Canadian titles. She had her focus now set on the Yukon Jack in Orlando, Fla.. She lost again to Dot and Liane but it only intensified her drive to prove that she could compete with bigger women. She vowed to beat one of the ladies who had been her only obstacles over the last two years. She wanted to beat either Dot or Liane. She accomplished that feat in the summer of 1997 beating Liane in Ottawa.
During the winter of 1998 Barb was waiting for a tournament to start in Huntsville, Ontario when she was coaxed into pulling the men's 135 lb class. The class had the reigning Ontario champion plus 2 time Canadian champion for the men in the same class. She thought for training reasons she would try it to see how she would fair against the men. It was not a good day in Huntsville for the men as Barb won both ladies classes as well as the men's with the Ontario and the Canadian champion placing third and second behind her respectively. This was just another example why many competitors consider Barb pound for pound one of the best arm wrestlers in the world.
Barb has many titles to her credit such as 10 time Canadian and and 6 time World arm wrestling Champion but there is still one title she would love to obtain - Olympic Gold Medallist. Barb, as every other professional arm wrestler, is dreaming of the day that this great sport will some how get the chance to show the world what great athletes it has on the Olympic stage. With hard work and a lot of co-operation Barb hopes that this dream will become a reality. There is no greater feeling in sport then to represent your country at the greatest sporting event on the Planet. We all hope it can happen.
With the future of the sport looking brighter than ever now Barb has plans to train harder than ever to obtain the goal of a world title in 4 different weight classes. She now has 3 with the most recent one coming in the 70kg class at the 1998 World arm wrestling championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Barb hopes to pull in the 80kg in 1999 World arm wrestling championships in Japan. All this from a woman that weighs 134 lbs (61kg). If there is any woman in the sport that can accomplish this feat, it is Barb Zalepa.
Update: Wonder Woman Barb Zalepa is back. Last weekend at the4th Annual Central Ontario Armwrestling Championships Barb won the Ladies Right 0-135 plus the Ladies Right Super Match - Open. Sheee's baaack!
ARMWRESTLING.COM- Dave Devoto (707) 537-7373
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