John LaVergne isn't your stereotypical champion arm wrestler. Most mornings, the soft-spoken 52-year-old Emmett family man only battles a lengthy commute to Nampa's South Middle School, where he serves as a school counselor. LaVergne said his successes in the sport of arm wrestling--which include titles from three state championships and two national championships--is far from a secret to his teenaged students.
"They all want to arm wrestle me on the lunchroom table," LaVergne laughed.
Arm wrestling often conjures images of beer-swilling brawlers locked in sweaty-browed contest, but for men and women across the world, it's a sport with an impressive pedigree. LaVerge said the activity traces back to early Russian, Native American and even Roman cultures
"Roman generals would pick their captains based on how they did arm wrestling," said LaVergne.
His meaty arms reflect his sport of choice. LaVergne's workouts include, in his words, "thousands of wrist curls, thousands of grippers, probably close to 100 pull-ups, hundreds of curls, that kind of thing."
In his earlier years, LaVergne spent time at the gym and playing basketball while living in Washington. After a bad ankle sprain left him unable to shoot hoops, LaVergne picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated featuring a story on Dave "General" Patton--a legend in the sport of arm wrestling.
"He was a beast; he was just a monster," said LaVergne.
It wasn't long before LaVergne ventured to a beginner's arm wrestling tournament in the Evergreen State, where, with no training, he took second place.
In the years since, he has walked away with a number of titles. Still, LaVergne has yet to take home a title from his three visits to the World Armwrestling Federation's World Championships, though he placed fifth and seventh in previous years. After a highly competitive visit to Worlds in Brazil in 2012--still without a world championship-- LaVergne said it may be time to scale back on professional competitions.
"Your arm only has so much arm wrestling in it. I've been doing it for over 20 years, off and on, and I've got a few pretty consistent aches and pains that I'm working through. I kinda told my wife that if I could go to Brazil, I might be toning down some stuff," he said.
His role as a counselor to countless Idaho children hasn't changed. LaVergne believes his commitment to his dreams may help send a message to the next generation of students, no matter their goals.
"My message to them is: Hey, you're never too old to have dreams and work toward 'em. So I try to encourage them the sky's the limit," he said. "I always tell them, 'I'm going to have to be 80 or 90 years old before you can beat me in arm wrestling.'"