University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
by Nicholas Campbell, Producer and Director of the Documentary The Ragin’ 13
What if I told you that the most victorious, collegiate, Olympic-style weightlifting team of the 20th century was co-founded by a Japanese American whose experiences in an internment camp during WWII would help catapult him into a lifelong career of weightlifting success and a gold medal at the 1967 Pan American Games? What if I told you that some members of that same team were later chauffeured to their regional meets by a newly-crowned Mr. America in 1960? Or that a subsequent captain during the height of that team’s 13 years of championship wins would go on to obtain an “apology” for the expulsion of the Acadians from the Queen of England as a gifted attorney and cultural activist? Or that another member of that team would become the weight trainer for the Buffalo Bills when O.J. Simpson broke the NFL rushing record? Or what if I told you this team had no assigned coach, were entirely self-taught, and went on to earn eight national championship titles and four second place wins in 13 years? Would you believe me?
The documentary film The Ragin’ 13 highlights those stories and others, of deeply-rooted team comradery and personal, experiential tales which act as guideposts for the main narrators, Walter Imahara (one of the team’s founders) and Warren Perrin. In one sense, it’s a simple story of an extraordinarily successful and dedicated team of weightlifters—who lifted for the University of Louisiana, Lafayette—and in another sense it’s a dual narrative which details pivotal moments in the personal lives of two key members of the team in order to find their motivations and their will to triumph over adversity.
Presented throughout the film are repeated themes of cultural identity from both Walter Imahara and Warren Perrin as they outline their attempt to find where they belong in a homogenous American landscape through the sport of Olympic-style weightlifting. Ultimately, Walter Imahara gained acceptance from a group of athletes who took him in as one of their own and was eventually dubbed the first Asian-Cajun by then University President Joel Fletcher in 1960. There was a cultural connectedness that was inherent to who they were as athletes.
Any story worth telling goes beyond the superficial and transparent overview of surface-level, exposition and anecdotes. Understanding the “why” behind these athletes is just as important as the multiple victories they obtained over a decade of serious and devoted training. The Ragin’ 13 documentary embodies that narrative intent.
Being able to tell the story of my alma mater’s first national championship win was an enticing notion, immediately. It was an honor to be able to research this project, film it, and piece it together over a two-year time frame. Beyond that, chronicling the history of a group of athletes that valued each other as friends and teammates and sought an egalitarian approach to their training, easily became one of the most gratifying aspects of this project.
Look into the faces of each individual athlete throughout the images in this book. You’ll see dogged determination, a practiced skillset, and gratitude for their comrades. You’ll also be witnessing just a small portion of a remarkable story whose true scope may be too big for the pages of this book or my film.