BILLINGS – Hunter Braaton is only 18 years old, but he has already turned his dream into reality. The Billings West graduate can now say he’s a member of Team USA.
“It’s quite an unreal feeling,” said Braaton. “I put a lot of time and a lot of energy into this sport, and it’s really paid off.”
The sport in question is arm wrestling, far away from the mainstream athletics spotlight. So how exactly did Hunter get his start? At an annual Billings tradition.
“I had been in wrestling for so long, I just had decided to do something different at Big Sky State Games,” Braaton said. “We were going through the list, and my mom actually pointed out arm wrestling to me.”
That was in 2010. But it wasn’t until his first pro tournament in 2016 that Braaton truly knew he belonged.
“There was a guy that had actually came from Ukraine to the tournament here in Montana, and I beat him, and then I decided, I really want to start training hard,” Braaton said.
All that training has paid off. On April 4, Braaton captured the 18-and-under championship at the United States Arm Wrestling Federation national tournament. He is one of only two Americans to earn the 154-pound division berth to the World Championships in Turkey.
“Hunter is young and he’s strong,” said Braaton’s coach, Tom Viera. “To my knowledge, he’s the youngest one in Montana to go to the worlds, and he’s earned this spot.”
Braaton has more than 20 arm wrestling championships to his name, but that is very little surprise to Viera.
“I like to call him the total package,” Viera said. “He’s healthy, he’s strong, he learns, he pays attention. He’s going to do all right.”
If making the World Championships is not amazing enough, Braaton has one more secret that will blow your mind.
“I’m right-handed, but I started training with both and just over the years, my national champion arm is my left,” Braaton said with a smile.
The World Armwrestling Championships will be held in Antalya, Turkey from October 12-21. Until then, Braaton can be found practicing at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Billings. Practices are held at 6:30 p.m. every Saturday night and are open to the public to attend for fun, fellowship and arm wrestling.