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Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo princess wrestles with success

KENNEWICK -- Kristyn Long is not your typical princess -- even by rodeo standards.

The 19-year-old Pasco woman began competing five years ago in arm wrestling competitions -- and has accumulated 14 state titles.

When she was just 14, she entered a state arm wrestling tournament -- held each August during the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo -- and walked away with the state title for teen girls.

Not satisfied, that same day she entered the women's lightweight class, where she would compete against seasoned veterans twice her age.

"I didn't know if I stood a chance at all," said Long, a 2010 graduate of Columbia (Burbank) High School. "I was 5-foot-3, and one of the women was 6 feet tall and had been wrestling for years."

It didn't matter. She beat them all, becoming the youngest person to ever win a women's championship in Washington.

In 2007, Long came back and this time signed up for every category she could: teen right-handed, teen left-handed, women's lightweight and women's heavyweight.

She probably would have competed with one hand tied behind her back, if there had been a category for that.

And she won four state titles.

In 2008 and 2009, she entered three classes each year and won again. And last year, there was no teen class, so she won the two women's titles, then competed in the men's novice class. While she didn't win, she finished a respectable fourth.

That's 14 titles in five years. Not bad for someone who doesn't even practice much.

Long will be back this Saturday at the fairgrounds in Kennewick to defend her championships. But all week, she will perform many other duties as part of the rodeo court.

Last fall, she earned the title of fair princess and has been representing the fair with Queen Brieanna Hall and Princess Gina Nielsen by attending rodeos, participating in parades and speaking to civic groups.

But even with those duties, her arm wrestling prowess always seems to come up.

Last month, she and the other fair royalty attended the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, one of the world's largest rodeos.

They met a couple of beefy dairy farmers from England who ended up wanting to arm wrestle her. She beat one of them left-handed and nearly beat the other right-handed. (He ended up holding his arm the rest of the evening.)

Soon after, the rodeo queen for the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming challenged her.

"She was taller, and she was built!" Long said. "I beat her right-handed, then I beat her left-handed."

Arm wrestling comes naturally to the daughter of John and Holly Long. She grew up playing sports and was the quintessential tomboy. She played powder puff football and excelled in volleyball and softball.

"I like being one of those girls who say, 'Girls can do anything,' " she said.

In high school, the football and wrestling coaches even tried to recruit her.

"I didn't want to go that far with it," she said with a laugh.

But she could ride her arm wrestling abilities to higher levels, say veterans of the sport.

George Weaver of Portland, who has competed on the pro circuit for 23 years, is impressed.

"I've been watching Kristyn for years," he said. "She can take it as far as she wants to."

Lori Rivas of Portland agrees -- and she should know. She met Long during that first tournament in 2006, and she wasn't sure what to think when the 14-year-old with braces on her teeth stepped up to take her on.

"I thought to myself, 'Well, here we go. I hope I don't embarrass myself.' And I did. She's a really strong girl. She took me by surprise."

The next year, they faced each other again. This time, Rivas dislocated her wrist trying to defeat Long.

"I thought I was pretty good," Rivas said with admiration. "I've taken a few championships. I think this girl can go all the way to the top. She has what it takes."

Weaver said all Long needs is a local sponsor who can help her compete in bigger tournaments on the West Coast.

"You don't get better until you pull with the best," he said. "She could compete outside of the Tri-Cities. In order to be the best, you need to beat the best."

Her dad, who has volunteered at the Benton Franklin Fair for years and is the fair board's vice president, is proud of his girl.

"It's pretty neat," he said. "She's always done other sports full tilt. She's always been very determined. When she wants to accomplish something, she's nonstop until she gets it."

For now, Long is satisfied with serving on the rodeo court, working at Ranch & Home in Pasco and attending Columbia Basin College this fall. And maybe finding a boyfriend.

"Some guys see me as intimidating," she said.

But once they get to know her, they find out she's a lot of fun.

"And then they say, 'Arm wrestle me!' "