• Fresno State attorney Grace Liu is an avid Iditarod sled dog racing fan and travels to Alaska most years to watch the race.
• She also loves arm-wrestling and has participated in competitions during her annual trips north.
• This year, she suffered a broken arm after a match against star musher Aliy Zirkle.
It was after 8 p.m. in a raucous bar in Nome, Alaska, and Fresno lawyer Grace Liu was 2-1 in the night’s arm-wrestling competition.
Then renowned musher Aliy Zirkle stepped up to the table, fresh off a fifth-place finish that day in the annual Iditarod sled dog race that started more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage.
It took Zirkle nine days to finish the race. It only took five seconds to end her match against passionate Iditarod fan Liu.
It was an end that came with a snap instead of applause — the sound of Liu’s arm breaking right above the elbow.
Liu didn’t let last Wednesday’s ill-fated match ruin her trip to the frozen state. She has made the trek from Fresno, where she works as an intellectual property attorney at Fresno State, to Alaska for several years. On March 16 she traveled to Nome to catch the action at the finish line. After the match in the bar, and receiving basic medical treatment for the break, she decided to stick out the rest of her trip and return to Fresno this week.
Now she has quite the story to tell about her northern adventures.
“When it happens to you, you go back and forth between thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is the most pathetic story,’ ” she said in an interview with The Bee on Tuesday. “I hope a story like this is once in a lifetime.”
Liu has made friends and memories during her trips to watch the race. The avid half-marathoner has also started new hobbies, like arm wrestling.
In 2012, Liu was a top competitor in the bar’s post-race competition.
“I finished second that year and nothing broke so I figured even if I lose, I would just lose the normal way,” she said. “I entered this year thinking, whatever, if I lose, I lose. But I wasn’t expecting this.”
This year, after winning two of her three matches, Liu was excited to go up against Zirkle.
Fresnans may not know Zirkle’s name, but for those who follow sled dog racing, Liu said, “she’s a legend.” Zirkle came in second in several past races and is considered a crowd favorite by many, including Liu.
During the arm-wrestling match, only a few seconds of going back and forth went by before Liu turned her shoulder at an odd angle to gain more leverage. It was a bad move, one that cost her the match and broke her arm. She may need surgery, she said.
“There are a lot of male mushers who came up to me” afterward, she said. “They said, ‘What were you thinking, arm-wrestling her? I wouldn’t go anywhere near her.’ ”
At the hospital in Nome, the doctors and nurses were impressed, too.
“All the nurses and doctors sat around and went, ‘I love Aliy!’ ” Liu said.
Liu ran into Zirkle several times during the week and said Zirkle was always “very, very apologetic” about the incident.
News of the match traveled fast across the tundra. The Alaska Dispatch News caught the story over the weekend, and fellow Fresno State employee Mike Dozier, who was in Anchorage for the start of the race, heard about it by Sunday.
Nome is “a rather wild, wild West type of place,” Dozier, Fresno State executive director for community and economic development, said Monday. He’s never been there, he said. “I’ve just heard stories about it.”
Here’s one more to add to the list.