The Gentle Giant: Huge Hands, Huge Expectations And One Big Comeback
One look at Jeff Dabe and his 19-inch forearms will tell a story of a man who possesses super-hero like arms and hands fit for a giant. But Jeff Dabe doesn’t live in a fairy tale or in the pages of a comic book. He’s a real man with real arms, and he’s had a really interesting journey climbing to the top of the arm wrestling world.
Like many athletes, injury entered Dabe’s life and could have sent the train off the tracks, derailing a promising career; but Dabe didn’t want to be defined by injuries, and he certainly didn’t want to stand idle while his natural advantage — paws fit for bears — atrophied on the sideline. So while the media may hype him up as a freak of nature, he’s actually a lot more than that. He’s a husband, a father, and a competitor. He’s an athlete who has overcome and triumphed. Here’s how Jeff Dabe went from a Minnesota kid with uncomfortably big hands to a legend in the growing community of arm wrestling.
Who is Jeff Dabe?
Jeff Dabe was born in 1963 in the small town of Stacey, Minnesota. Being from a small town, with a population well under 2,000, may be the only part of Jeff’s life that is small. Being from such a small town meant Dabe and his outsized hands stuck out even more.
Born with his signature massive-arms, doctors were initially concerned that Dabe suffered health problems that would linger throughout his life. Fortunately, after many tests and doctors visits, Jeff was given a clean bill of health. All he had was big hands and nothing else.
As Jeff grew, so did his arms, albeit disproportionately to the rest of his body. He and his family quickly found great uses for his massive pipes, because as they say, use it or lose it. So growing up on a farm in rural Minnesota presented a perfect opportunity for Dabe’s father to put his son to work and for Dabe to develop his latent strength. Based on photographic evidence, he provided a huge hand on the farm and redefined the meaning of farm hand.
In high school, Jeff took up wrestling, a perfect sport to utilize his abnormally large arms. For those of you who don’t know, Minnesota is one of America’s most passionate states about wrestling; one could even call it huge, even more so than his hands. During his senior year, Dabe began his arm wrestling career, a move that would shape his future. Time to swap the singlet for a t-shirt and back pins for arm pins.
As a senior, Dabe was given the nickname “Popeye,” a very fitting moniker for a man possessing arms that have a 19-inch circumference, about six inches larger than the average American male bicep size of 13.
Fast forward to 1986, a year that had two monumental and massive sporting events occur. The Chicago Bears and their lovable, large defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, and even had a rushing touchdown in the big game. Big men were being popularized and glorified like never before.
Meanwhile, Jeff Dabe, a loveable and famous man, at least in his hometown of Stacey, tweaked his elbow in an arm wrestling competition. The injury, occurring in Dabe’s dominant right-arm, prevented the local legend from competing. So as one man’s career took off following a championship, another man’s spiraled into a pit of misery.
With his good hand out of the fight, Dabe decided to prematurely end his arm wrestling career. In fact, his career took a 26-year hiatus, while Dabe worked on a farm and operated heavy machinery. Far from the glory of being an arm wrestling icon, Dabe seemed to be content with the cards he was dealt. Big hands, big equipment, and little worries.
Why His Hands Are So Big?
So you may still be wondering why Jeff Dabe’s hands are the way they are. Surely something must be wrong.
Legends like Andre the Giant suffered from gigantism, a rare disease that causes excessive growth. Although not a lethal disease, gigantism can be severely debilitating with people reaching heights of over 7-feet and weights easily above 400-pounds. Thankfully, modern advancements in medicine have given people with gigantism the option for surgery which can remove tumors that cause the exponential growth.
Another disease that can cause large limbs and excessive swelling is elephantiasis. Caused by the bight of a mosquito carrying parasitic worms, this disease spreads to one’s extremities, causing severe inflammation; and although it’s treatable, it is often incredibly painful and severely affects one’s quality of life.
But for Dabe, it was neither of these diseases. It was simply rapid growth that caused his hands and arms to skyrocket to nearly-unimaginable sizes. Now that we’ve put your worries to bed, let’s get back into the life of Dabe.
Rise to Arm Wrestling Stardom
As we mentioned, Dabe essentially retired from the sport in 1986, following his elbow injury. In those years off, he worked and tried to live a normal life despite his outwardly abnormal appearance. But the craving for arm wrestling could never be satiated, and the sense of belonging in a community he loved lingered in his mind.
Exactly 26 years after his injury, Dabe made his comeback. In 2012, Dabe realized that he had another arm to use, another arm ready to punish opponents while he grips them into submission. It remains a mystery why Dabe didn’t attempt to use his left arm many years earlier, but when the lightbulb went off in Dabe’s head, it was go time. No more moping around. No more feeling sorry for yourself.
Legends are made during the comeback. It’s the story of the athlete recovering from devastating injury that inspires people and defies conventional logic of what the body is capable of. It’s Teddy Bridgewater returning to play following a horrific knee injury that gives people goosebumps on their arms.
With that in mind, that quest for glory, Dabe began arm wrestling on the local Minnesota circuit, and with each match, his legend – and the audience – grew. Bars sold out as fans poured in to see the massive hands work their magic.
The first stop of the comeback tour came at the Minnesota State Tournament. Dabe, not a man who trained seriously with weights, preferring manual labor and farming as his primary method of strength training, miraculously rose to the top of the tournament before taking first place.
With that state championship, Dabe was invited to the World Arm Wrestling League circuit- the most prominent arm wrestling league on the planet.
On the World Arm Wrestling League circuit, Dabe has done considerably well, especially considering he is competing using his non-dominant hand.
To date, Dabe has gone to the finals twice and placed third at the 2015 Northern Region tournament. Despite arm wrestling being a very specialized, niche sport, its popularity has rapidly grown with each passing year.
At the World Championships, held in Las Vegas and televised nationally on ESPN2, the winner takes home roughly $25,000. Not a bad haul at all, and with local, regional, and national tournaments held relatively frequently, arm wrestling has become a major way to supplement income.
In an interview with News.co.au, Dabe expressed his gratitude for the World Arm Wrestling League: “Thanks to the World Arm Wrestling League I am now competing with people from all over America.”
And the competition allows him to travel across America. “It’s so fun to travel to places we wouldn’t normally go,” Dabe said to News.co.au.
His Biggest Supporter
To be the man Jeff is today, to complete the miraculous comeback, Jeff needs an anchor. And whether he’s anchoring opponents to the table or getting pinned, Jeff has a loyal supporter in his wife Gina. The two, both from Minnesota, consider themselves homebodies, but in recent years have been afforded the luxury of travel thanks to Jeff’s line of work.
Gina, one of the loudest, most vocal supporters out of the generally small, tame crowds at arm wrestling tournaments, stands in his corner no matter what.
There’s no telling how Jeff’s future in the arm wrestling circuit will pan out, but two things that will remain constant in his life are his wife’s support and the amazement fans and cursory passerbys show in his massive arms.