Traditionally, New Hampshire's poet laureate reads a poem at the inauguration of a new governor. This year, however, Gov. Chris Sununu chose someone with a different talent.
Cathy Merrill, who runs a landscaping business in Newport and drives a school bus on the side, is an arm wrestler. And not just any arm wrestler. Merrill's the 2015 Female World Arm Wrestling Champion, with 10 national titles to her name.
She got her start in the sport after being dared to sign up for an event at a local fair. Merrill first met Chris Sununu in 2015. Sununu was then a member of the Executive Council, and Merrill had received a commendation for her contribution to the town of Newport by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, during an Executive Council meeting held in the town.
"A friend of mine, Dick Wentzell, said, 'Well we want to take and have you arm wrestle somebody off the Executive Council or the governor.' So unbeknownst to everybody, all the names went into a box and the Governor was given the box to pick out of, and she picked Chris Sununu's name," Merrill says. "Then I found out, [Sununu] said, 'I am such a big fan of yours,' and I'm like, I didn't even think you knew I existed. He's like, 'I've been following your career for the past couple of years'."
The two kept in touch, and around Christmas last year, Sununu called Merrill, and asked her to read the poem at his inauguration. He told Merrill to choose something by a New Hampshire author, and she landed on a classic: Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."
"It was just amazing, and it was a great experience. A once in a lifetime thing," Merrill says. "I can't thank him enough for allowing me to be a part of it. It was great."
What is one piece of advice Merrill would give Sununu as he starts his term in the governor's office?
"I did send him a text message around Thanksgiving time and told him that, you know, I understand where he wants to go, and its going to take everybody's cooperation in order to get there," Merrill recalled. "However, he's not going to please everybody on any given day, and all he can do is try the best that he can and just, you know, one day at a time."
And as for how Sununu shapes up at the arm wrestling table?
"Well, he needs a little work. He needs a little work and I'm thinking if I can get him to practice a couple of times, give him a few more pointers, I might make an arm wrestler out of him. But he's got a little way to go."
For now, Sununu's wrestling will likely be limited to lawmakers in Concord.