By Published On: December 13, 2023Categories: Patriotic, Personality features, Stories

Story By Hannah Goldfinger and Michelle Key

Photos Contributed By Jason Devereux and Opelika Middle School

 

One Opelika Middle School Teacher — and local veteran — has a “claim to fame.” 

Justin Devereux recently won the World Masters Weight lifting Championship in Poland. 

He traveled to Poland for almost a week and represented Opelika while there. Devereux wore an Opelika shirt in Poland to represent the school and the supporters he has in the system. 

But before he was earning gold medals for weight lifting, Devereux was earning medals for his military service in the Marine Corps.

He said that he starting lifting weights as a child. 

“I remember being far back as fifth grade and I would write out little workouts in my room with dumbbells, right?” he said. “I was always a little smaller growing up and I just liked being strong, it kind of gave me a lot of self-confidence.”

While he said that he wanted to be a competitive weight lifter, Devereux also wanted to be a United States Marine. 

“I joined the military after my high school graduation primarily because I wanted to earn the title of United States Marine,” he said. “I read about the history of the Marine Corps growing up and I wanted to be a part of an elite organization that would protect our freedoms.”

According to Devereux, being a Marine helped shape him in the man that he is today. 

“As a young man, joining the Marines built a solid foundation in my life and provided me the opportunity to go to college and buy a home,” he said. “It also helped me find my purpose as an educator where I continue to serve our country and community by helping our youth develop necessary skills needed to graduate, become successful and become active, responsible citizens.”

Devereux was stationed near the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and said that he was awarded a National Service Defense medal for wartime service during the subsequent Global War on Terror. He also earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his service as a legal service specialist for administrative-related work under the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy with the Navy and Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity. 

One of Devereux’s favorite memories of his time in the military is one that speaks volumes of the reverence and honor that is shown to those who have lost their lives in service to their country. 

“One of my favorite memories of my service in the Marine Corps was on a particular unit physical training run through Arlington National Cemetery one early morning as the sun was rising and the fog was clearing,” Devereux said. “It was typical for us to sing a running cadence song to keep us motivated and in step as we ran. A memory that still gives me chills was when we ran through a particular sacred area of the cemetery where it was disrespectful to sing. Although we silenced our cadence, we stayed in step and the only sound you could hear was about 100 Marines’ footsteps echoing off gravestones. It felt like we were honoring those that gave the ultimate sacrifice with the beat of our steps. It’s a powerful memory that few have had the honor to experience and it brings back a strong feeling of esprit de corps.”

Although he played football in high school, Devereux said that being smaller made the sport less of a fit for him. Weight lifting, however, allowed him to compete with people in his weight class. 

“When I went in the Marines, I had a really good recruiter, that I told him, I said, ‘You know, I want to be a Marine, but if it’s all possible, I know there’s been Marines that have tried to make the Olympics,’” he said. 

His recruiter set him up with a legal job in the Marines that was accommodating to his training and weights. 

He served from May 2000 to May 2004, with his primary duty station being in Washington, D.C., at the naval yard. During this period, he competed in the US Men’s Championships eight times. 

“As a young man, it really kind of just helped provide a good, positive activity for me,” he said. “So, it kind of became like a lifestyle.”

Devereux is new to the area. He moved here with his wife from Oregon in July. 

Devereux said that having Keith York, principal of Opelika Middle School, on his side, has been helpful for the transition. 

“I emailed him and talked about in the interview where I was explaining, ‘You know, I would normally never ask this starting a new job but I’m signed up to represent USA in Poland’ and he was just, from the very get-go, ‘We’re looking forward to having you here and we take care of our teachers,’” Devereux said. 

Weight lifting is also a family activity. 

“One of my favorite parts too, about this, is my daughter, she goes to Auburn Junior High — she’s actually a weight lifter too,” he said. “She’s just been always around my work and she’s competed in four youth nationals and she got fifth in the U.S. this past summer.”

Devereux said that doing this with his daughter — Penelope Devereux (Pip) — also means instilling life lessons — like doing your best, rather than over-pressuring yourself. 

His wife is involved, too, he said. 

“She’s kind of the rock of the family and supports a lot of us; she’s competed in some big meets but I think she could have more success if she wasn’t helping us so much,” he said. 

Who knows where Devereux will head next? He has his goals and Opelika Middle School is ready to support him in his weight lifting. 

 

 

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