Justin Phongsavanh, 24
JAVELIN → CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA
“IN HIGH SCHOOL I DID FOOTBALL, wrestling, track, rugby and was on my way to being a journeyman electrician. That’s now out of the cards due to the disability. In October of 2015 my friend and I were in Ankeny, Iowa, getting a bite to eat at a Mcdonald’s before we went camping. When we were leaving, unbeknownst to us, an individual followed us out, went to his car to grab his gun, then pistol whipped my friend across the forehead without saying a word. I got in between to help my friend and he pointed the gun at me. Luckily the preparator’s wife came out and stopped the situation. They went back to their car and I tended to my friend. When I went to the other side of our car to call the police, the individual opened his car door and began firing a total of five shots. My friend got hit once, and I got hit in the leg and upper arm. Then he left and turned himself in to the police and bailed himself out that same night. He did two years in prison and now he’s out and lives about six minutes away from my house. He had a bad case of PTSD from the military and the jury gave him lesser charges instead of two counts of attempted murder. My friend is physically 100 percent but still battling mental issues from the event, and I have a T2 complete spinal cord injury.
When I was in the hospital, I broke down my options. I could sit and wallow, take my own life and not know what could be, just scared of the unknown, or, I could just dive in, get out of my comfort zone and live life to the fullest. That’s what I did.
In 2017 I went to a training camp in Wisconsin, Gateway to Gold, where I met my now-coach Erica Wheeler. In 2018 I hit my first national standard and was invited to the U.S. Olympic training center in Chula Vista.
The physique that it takes to throw the javelin, how the javelin flies, how far it goes, and just the grace of actually releasing a long, 600-gram spear is sexy, it’s an art. To do it, I strap myself in an 18x18 inch throwing metal chair that has a pole attached. I hold onto the pole, lean back, my left arm acts like my legs and my right arm throws the javelin. It’s a lot of arm strength and it’s also about positioning and technique. You don’t have to be the strongest guy on the field to
throw the javelin the furthest, you have to be the most technically sound.
At the Paralympic trials I threw 33.29 meters, which is the current World Record in the F54 Men’s Seated Javelin category. It’s great to be coming into the Tokyo Paralympics as number 1 but I’ve been ranked that before and fallen short so I just want to do my best, to take all this in and enjoy every minute of it and try not put too much pressure on myself. In the Paralympics it’s six straight throws then the next guy’s up. I hope it’s a tight competition, but when it comes down to it, it’s just me versus me. It’s an individual sport. I live for this.no matter the situation, nobody has to sit on the sidelines in any scenario whether it’s in sports, whether it’s a job, whether it’s life.”
→ Phongsavanh competed in the men’s javelin throw final on September 3, and won the bronze medal.
“The physique that it takes to throw the javelin, how the javelin flies, how far it goes, and just the grace of actually releasing a long, 600-gram spear is sexy, it’s an art.”