Vegan athlete Rob Bigwood: ‘Uneducated, arrogant, selfish people hide behind their keyboards’

By on April 18, 2014

Bigwood_VeganI heard rumbles back in February that a vegan athlete was going to featured on a new reality TV series called Game of Arms on AMC. I thought I’d watch an episode or two to see how AMC would portray veganism.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tuned into a show with a vegan contestant (or a contestant self-identifying as vegan), only to be let down when it turns out the contestant is not really vegan (plant-based at best). Even worse is when a show portrays veganism negatively and a contestant actually consumes the body parts or secretions of other animals, or cooks the body parts of animals. (See the The Taste, MasterChef, and other competitive cooking shows for abundant examples.)

I was surprised to find myself enthralled by Game of Arms. Not only was it well shot, but the storylines were engaging and showed the humanity of the athletes. When the show featured Rob Bigwood as part of his New York arm wrestling team Arms Control, they didn’t shy away from Rob’s veganism, in fact they portrayed it very fairly. It also became clear to me that Rob was the real deal, an ethical vegan. Throughout the series, both Rob and the show continued to speak openly about veganism.

Rob placed fourth in the U.S. nationals and won the left-handed super heavyweight World Championships in 2006. He has won over 40 state championships.

Rob was kind enough to agree to an interview about the show and his ethics.

The sport of arm wrestling has steadily been growing in popularity. With the success of Game of Arms, even more people have been brought into the sport. The show has certainly not shied away from the fact that you are vegan. On the episode where you are profiled, they emphasized your veganism in a respectful way. Were you surprised by how they portrayed it and you?

Nope, not at all. The producers from Undertow Films have been nothing but honest and great from the very beginning. We all put trust in each other.

Can you share your vegan story? What inspired you to go vegan and how has it affected you as a person?

Seeing baby pigs for the first time in person was the first time I had ever associated meat with innocent creatures. They were adorable, loving, affectionate, and reminded me of puppies. It’s extremely easy in our culture to turn a blind eye on where our food comes from. All animals should have the same rights — why are pigs or cows less important than dogs or cats?

Are there any particular animal rights issues that you work on or feel a special affinity towards?

Factory farming and puppy mills. Pet stores sell around a half million dogs each year, while five to seven million enter shelters. That’s so sad and wrong. Adopt!

The episode of Game of Arms where they held the match in a slaughterhouse seemed to be about intimidating you. They also had you wait in the kill area as your waiting room before your match. What were your thoughts before arriving, and how did wrestling in a slaughterhouse affect you? I can’t imagine it was easy.

That was a terrible day for the entire New York City team for multiple reasons. I’ve never been in a slaughterhouse, but I do know the horror that goes on behind those walls. My biggest concern before the match was seeing the live animals, especially knowing their fate. Arm wrestling was the last thing I had on my mind that day.

Your club team seems accepting of your veganism. When opponents and rival teams learn of your veganism, what is their reaction? Have you found them to be accepting, or judgmental?

I get more respect from other competitors then I do from fans of the show. I have never experienced such negativity in my life. I try my best to not read any of it, but every once in a while, I’ll catch an idiotic statement saying I “need more protein” or “vegans can’t arm wrestle.” There are too many uneducated, arrogant, and selfish people hiding behind their keyboards. 

How do you feel being a spokesperson/role model for veganism? Clearly there aren’t many, if any, other vegans in your sport.

I’m starting to feel like it might be my calling. It’s so satisfying having even just a small part in helping save innocent animals.

You have some of the coolest tattoos I’ve seen. When did you start getting tattoos, and which have the most meaning to you? Do you have any or plan to add any that represents your veganism?

I got my first tribal band tattoo in South Jersey when I was 18. Thankfully, that has been since covered up. Seth Wood has done both of my sleeves and my left thigh at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn. Deno from Circus Tattoo in Spain did the skull, castle and tentacles on my right thigh. But my favorite and most meaningful is the King of Hearts on my inner left arm.

Most people assume that arm wrestling is strictly about brute strength. Can you talk a little about the strategy and technique involved?

Brute strength definitely helps, but when you have two guys who are equally powerful, technique and endurance kick in. Arm wrestlers try to attack each others’ weakest points, and a perfect example would be my recent match with Bill Logsdon from the Kansas City Rolling Thunder. His technique was perfect in avoiding my power hook. Bill pulled me away from my move and was able to get the win.

Arm wrestling is a much more dangerous sport than I had realized. What sorts of injuries have you sustained and how do you work to prevent them?

I had surgery on my right elbow a few years ago. The surgeons opened me up and moved my ulnar nerve due to my hand frequently falling asleep. They also removed six bone spurs, and cut out a decent chunk of my tricep. I’ve also torn my shoulders and biceps a few times, and those take months to heal. When you have so much force applied at angles that your arm isn’t supposed to be in, bad things happen. Injuries are way too common in arm wrestling.


David Moir_AMC3    David Moir_AMC

bigwood2   David Moir_AMC2

*Lead image by Photographer Wendy George, additional photos by David Moir and Candy Bigwood.


  1. Laloofah
    April 18, 2014

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    Of all his big, strong muscles, it’s his big, strong heart that is the most powerful and impressive! Wonderful interview.

  2. Sasha James
    August 4, 2014

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    Great interview!
    Rob should change his last name to Bigheart. Just beautiful.

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