Standing at a mere 5 feet, 7 inches and 155 pounds, 75-year-old Norm Devio of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, doesn’t look like the godfather of arm wrestling that he is. But he has dominated the largely unknown sport for much of the last 40 years.
Devio has won more than 25 national arm wrestling titles in the 150-pound class, and has been victorious with both his right and left arm in the sit-down and stand-up competitions. He has also represented the U.S. globally in the 1996 world championship in Virginia, where he made second place. There have been plenty of great arm wrestlers over the years, but what makes Devio a sensation is his longevity in the sport. No other arm wrestlers have been as competitive as Norm, nor for so long. To this day, he can enter a tournament anywhere and still be a top competitor, capable of beating opponents twice his size and 50 years younger than him.
Devio entered his first professional arm wrestling tournament on a whim in 1975, the New England Championships in Nashua, New Hampshire. The former gymnast won the entire competition, beating out other arm wrestlers – or ‘pullers,’ as they’re called – who have been in the sport for years. In 1982, Devio and a few of his teammates taught Sylvester Stallone a few arm wrestling techniques for the movie “Over the Top,” which filmed during a real arm wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. Devio recalls that Stallone was not quite the champion he portrayed in the film, and that he beat the Rocky star in a practice match.
In order to maintain his competitive edge, Devio follows a strict workout routine that includes daily aerobic exercise combined with weekly weight lifting. At 75 years old, Devio curls a 110-pound barbell for three sets of ten reps – a feat most men his size (let alone his age) would struggle with. Whether it be in a pizza parlour in Middleboro, Massachusetts, a backroom of a kitchen supply store in Manchester, New Hampshire, or any number of basements across New England, Devio has been practicing and working with other arm wrestlers for 40 years.
Despite his success, the physical nature of the sport has taken it’s toll on the former Brookline high gym teacher. Nowadays, Devio only competes with his right arm, since he was forced to give up pulling with his left after injuring his elbow. The aging arm wrestler has lost track of exactly how many tournaments he has won; only the 500 trophies in his basement can keep him at a rough count.
Devio is an inspiration to the global arm wrestling community. According to six-time national arm wrestling champion Michael Shalhoub, there are few athletes in any sport who have ever accomplished what Devio has with arm wrestling. Devio sees no end in sight, and he will continue to compete as long as he stays healthy and competitive – a feat he currently has no issue with whatsoever.
After seeing a short clip on TV about arm wrestling, I thought it would be interesting to do a photo story on this relatively unknown sport. After some digging around online, I stumbled upon Norm Devio, who lives not too far from me. With some effort, I was put in touch with him and explained the idea behind the photo story.
My time spent with Norm was nothing but enjoyable, and he could not have been more welcoming and generous. His friends in the sport talked about him as if he was some sort of ageless superhuman. When he competes it is clear that there is some truth behind these claims. He is an inspiration not just within the tight-knit arm wrestling community, but to all people who think that as they get older they have to give up doing what they love.
Adam Glanzman is a photographer and multimedia journalist based in Boston, Massachusetts.