By Danielle Jennison
---- — Andover native Emily Burke, a 22-year-old senior at Penn State, was offered a rare opportunity this spring that was too exciting to pass up.
By a twist of fate, she found herself cast on ESPNU’s new collegiate competition show “Cawl to Arms,” in which teams of coeds from rival universities go head to head — or rather arm to arm — in a battle for arm wrestling domination.
The show, which highlights member teams of the new College Arm Wrestling League, begins airing Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. on ESPN’s collegiate channel.
The thing is, Burke isn’t exactly an arm wrestler. The 2010 graduate of Andover High School admits that she was a very shy, quiet girl who in high school remained in the background of just about everything.
Burke said it wasn’t until college that she began to break out of her shell and start to try new things.
“College definitely made me branch out and now whenever I see an opportunity, I take it,” she said.
So when the “Cawl to Arms” casting directors put out an SOS for female arm wrestlers from Penn State, she accepted the challenge.
Burke said while male competitors were easy to round up at Penn State, female arm wrestlers were more scare, She found herself being approached by one of the casting directors who she happened to know with an offer to fill an open slot.
“He asked me to take part in it, because they couldn’t find enough girls who were interested,” she said. Prior arm wrestling experience was not a prerequisite, Burke said.
“It was something completely new,” she said, adding she had zero upper-body strength along with zero experience.
It also helped that one of her teammates was also her roommate, who helped Burke realize that if nothing else, the experience would score her a free trip to New Jersey and the chance to win a share of the $10,000 top prize,
Before her decision had time to sink in, Burke was already off meeting her five teammates as they were packing up a car and heading to Asbury Park, N.J., to begin filming.
While Burke has had behind-the-scenes experience in the TV business as a production intern for an MTV reality show, she says the hardest part of her experience with “Cawl to Arms” was being the center of attention.
“Me being in front of the camera and the focus was the most nerve-racking,” she said.
For the competition, Burke’s Penn State faces Rutgers, Syracuse and the University of Connecticut. Burke isn’t at liberty to say how she or her team fared. Viewers will have to tune the next three Tuesday nights to find that out.
But one thing Burke will say is that she succeeded in stepping out of her comfort zone and conquering any fears.
“I think it’s good to get out there and it’s cool that they involved girls and they made sure it was fun,” she said. “To have girls doing something that you don’t normally see girls doing was great.”