"It felt really good to be part of a group again, and I was hooked on the sport," Plexman said. "After my first practice, I went home thinking, 'This is for me,' and I was already planning on losing weight so I can get into the lower weight category for the upcoming tournament in two or three months from then."
I’ve been listening to CBC radio long before I can remember!
I’m proud to be interviewed by Mary Jean Cormier on the Superior Morning Show. Thanks, Kris Ketonen and everyone at the Thunder Bay studio for treating me like a rock star! I had so much fun!
Listen to the full CBC Radio Interview
Dan Plexman 'engulfed in flames' while working for a hydroelectric company in 2008 in Red Lake, Ont.
From nearly losing his arms as a result of a workplace accident to becoming a world champion arm-wrestler, the last 15 years have been a wild ride for Dan Plexman of Thunder Bay, Ont.
The accident happened in 2008 while Plexman was working for a hydroelectric company in Red Lake, Ont.
"I was working alone in a man lift," Plexman recalled. "I was working under live power lines.
"I was working all by myself, and that right there is a big no-no," he said. "I didn't have the electrical know-how and the electrical knowledge and experience to be working by myself.... Plus, it's illegal. It's just not safe. It's not legal for an apprentice to be working alone under live power lines. And I was asked to do that."
Plexman didn't make contact with the overhead lines but came close enough to create an electrical arc.
"I wasn't electrocuted, but I was burnt in the electrical fire created by the electricity arcing from the overhead lines to the steel man lift that I was in," he said.
"I was engulfed in flames"
"I reached through the flames for the fire extinguisher that was mounted by my feet, and I tried to pull the pin, but my hands were already so damaged, I couldn't even pull the pin or let alone operate the fire extinguisher," Plexman said. "And the fire extinguisher was metal, so it caused even more damage to my already very burned hands. So I dropped the fire extinguisher and then I rolled out of the machine, but I was still connected by my safety harness."
Plexman said he dangled there in the harness, five metres above the ground until the harness burned through and he fell to the ground.
He received 3rd- to 6th-degree burns to 60 percent of his body. His co-workers extinguished the flames and Plexman was quickly taken to hospital for treatment.
"They immediately induced me into a coma," he said. "I was in a coma for 11 days, and during those 11 days, [there] were just constant surgeries.
"The surgeons told my family, 'Dan's got about a 13 % chance to live, and if he does survive, we're making plans to amputate both of his arms from above the shoulders.'"
But that certainly wasn't how things turned out.
In fact, 14 years to the day of his workplace accident, Plexman was winning the left and right arm titles at the International Federation of Armwrestling's 2022 world championships in France, competing in the men's 80-kilogram disabled category.
Plexman had first tried arm-wrestling just a few years prior to that win, in 2019, as a way to help with his injuries. The scar tissue causes his arms to contract toward his body, he explained.
"I go to physiotherapy very often and I'm constantly stretching," he said. "I actually wear splints at night, too, to keep my arms straight because when I wake up in the morning, they're folded in."
Meanwhile, Plexman had friends in Thunder Bay who were competitive arm-wrestlers. One day, he called one of them up and asked if he could stop by the next practice.
"I'm thinking that it might be good for me to have this opportunity where I can stretch out my arms and maybe save me going to physio one day a month or something like that," he said. "And no joke, the first day I was there, I felt a camaraderie. I felt accepted.
"It felt really good to be part of a group again, and I was hooked on the sport," Plexman said. "After my first practice, I went home thinking...
This is for me!
...and I was already planning on losing weight so I can get into the lower weight category for the upcoming tournament in two or three months from then."
Plexman has competed in several tournaments ever since. Aside from his big victories in France in 2022, Plexman competed in this year's Canadian nationals, where he placed 1st in left arm, 2nd in right arm in the 80-kilogram disabled category and 3rd in the 80-kilogram able-bodied category.
Later this month, Plexman is defending his world titles in Malaysia.
"This year, I got sponsorship," he said. "The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers, they're sponsoring me to go.
"They're the union that I was working for — representing — when I got hurt. And so to have this partnership, it's awesome. And the community, it's nothing better."
John Wabb, chair of the union's national executive board, said Plexman has been a member for a long time and remains very active with the organization.
"Dan's been a very active member of our health, safety and wellness committee," Wabb said. "He actually now helps us prepare for the annual conference, our annual health and safety conference.
"He helps arrange for speakers," he said. "This year, he's gonna be our MC, so he's been that very active member in recent years.
"That's the main reason for the sponsorship," Wabb said.
"He's a great guy. It's been quite a journey for him — anything we can do to support him, because he does a lot of support for us."
Workplace safety advocate
Plexman also works as a speaker, travelling to workplaces across North America to talk about his experience and promote workplace safety. His arm-wrestling success is certainly a help in his work outside competing.
"I've got 13 amputations to 10 fingers, and I look different," he said. "I think people sometimes look at me like, 'Oh, this guy's on stage, and we're glad he's out here, and we're glad that he's telling us what needs to be told, and he's sharing his experience and it's too bad he just can't do the things that he used to do.'
"They find out that I'm a world champion arm-wrestler, and they're like, 'What's going on here?'
"It's really fun now that I'm at a point now where, when I do my presentations talking about workplace safety, when we're done, lots of times arm-wrestling is the main conversation."
To book Dan for your event, directly contact him here .