“All right, there are two options: You can get going and see what you can do with this life, or you can give up. And I said, option one’s too easy, I don’t like taking the easy road out. I’m going to see what I can do. I’m going to see the capabilities I have as a person that I’ve forged for myself over the last 18 years of training, doing sports, lifting weights, going through all those life experiences.”
This Saturday, Justin Phongsavanh will have six throws of the javelin to earn his way to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, when he competes at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Track & Field in Minnesota. In this week’s episode, he shares with us the incredible journey that brought him to this point—and how the power of sport has carried him through some of life’s toughest moments.
Justin grew up a multisport athlete, playing football and rugby, wrestling, and throwing shot put and discus. He was no stranger to setbacks, including broken wrists and multiple concussions. But his strength and athletic background would be put to an even larger test after a gunshot wound severed his spinal cord in 2015, when he was just 18.
The incident and his recovery afterward brought a true roller-coaster of emotions, including hopelessness and anger. Adaptive sports helped reconnect him to the competitor he was in the past, and continue seeking the best for himself.
It didn’t take long for him to realize he could be great—at his first meet, he broke national records in every event he entered, from powerlifting to shot put to javelin. Now, he’s gearing up to compete at the sport’s highest level, living his dream while also taking time to give back to the next generation through coaching young athletes.
Note to listeners: This episode contains descriptions of violence from 13:53 to 18:46.
A huge thank you to our sponsors for this episode: Fluid Running and ProStretch. Fluid Running makes it possible to maintain your peak physical fitness even when you’re injured through the power of deep water running. And ProStretch offers uniquely designed products to stretch and massage muscles easier and more effectively than conventional methods. Listen for special discount codes in the episode!
In this episode, we discuss:
- The three categories of disability in Paralympic sport (5:41)
- The types of overuse injuries common among throwers, and how he helps prevent them (6:13)
- His earlier history with injury, including concussions (8:54)
- The incident that caused his spinal cord injury (13:39)
- His initial emotional reaction (18:46)
- The point at which he began to see the way forward—and how he approached rehab with an athletic mindset (21:19)
- The anger he felt at the individual responsible, and how he’s worked through it (25:14)
- How he got into Paralympic sport, and throwing specifically (30:36)
- His decision to move to the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California (36:29)
- What prehab and rehab looks like for the athletes there (40:26)
- How COVID altered his training (46:15)
- The coaching he does with younger athletes (51:01)
- His support system and how they’ve helped him navigate life (54:56)
- His advice for injured athletes and other people facing obstacles (58:15)
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- Justin’s Instagram
- A story about him from Team USA
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