The way people often imagine it, the road to gold isn’t likely to begin in a garage in Middleburg.
But look again.
More than a dozen Jacksonville-area competitors savored the chance to represent the United States during the IAF World Armwrestling Championships, which concluded last week in Orlando.
For them, the route to mastery ran through Middleburg.
That’s where Thursday in, Thursday out, their routine means three-hour arm wrestling sessions inside that Clay County garage, where coach Chuck Westberry organizes the Team Jacksonville arm wrestling squad.
There’s no million-dollar contract or celebrity status at the end of these competitions, just sweat and strain and — with enough work — the honor of being named champion of the world.
“It’s really a thing where you either love it or you don’t,” he said.
Westberry does. He said he’s spent about 25 years around the sport, a contest of strength, timing, technique and pure will, now leading a Clay County-based group that numbers more than 50 members.
In all, 14 members of the group wore the red, white and blue of the United States team during the four days of competition.
The Team USA arm wrestlers are as young as the coach’s 13-year-old daughter, Lily Westberry, winner of a pair of junior gold medals. And they’re as old as Beaches resident Stu Levin, 76, who won his own age group world title at both right and left-handed competition.
Jacksonville resident Kevin Sams won the fifth gold for the First Coast squad, which combined to earn 16 medals at the championship.
“You never expect gold medals,” Levin said. “If you can get on a podium in an international tournament, you did pretty darn well.”
The world championships were the first for most of the Northeast Florida competitors.
In the last quarter-century, assorted world championships have criss-crossed the world, most of them across the planet from the First Coast. The most recent event, in 2019, was in Rumia, Poland.
So the chance to go for the gold in the Sunshine State may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and they’re glad they were able to take on the challenge together.
“It’s not really a team sport,” Chuck Westberry said. “But we’re a team because we help each other to get our goals.”
Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.