Justin Caine competes at a Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association event.
You could say Justin Caine’s Para track and field career was kickstarted outside a club.
Caine was a bouncer at the time, and his job was to stop a fight that broke out. While he did succeed in doing so, he ended up checking himself into the emergency room afterward.
His boss at the time gifted him with a free signup to a local gym.
“He said, ‘You need to start working out so you can at least defend yourself,’” Caine said. “I started doing that, and I became a major gym rat. I loved the way it made me feel, and I loved everything about it.”
Caine, a 37-year-old in T36 long jump, is fairly new to the Paralympic scene. He is currently the top-ranked long jumper in his class in the United States, and the second oldest American long jumper who registers in the world rankings.
Caine is vying for a spot at next year’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021, but he said he feels his late start in Para track and field has put him at a disadvantage.
"When you start in the game at 31, you don’t really have that development,” he said. “You’re kind of thrown into it with the big boys, but you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Caine got his start in Para sport when his stepmother was looking to start a team of disabled athletes to compete in the Michigan Victory Games. The Michigan Victory Games, or MVG, is a multi-day event for disabled athletes. Caine’s only previous athletic experience was against able-bodied athletes, and he was disappointed by his finishing near the latter half of the leaderboards.
He had not competed against or alongside disabled athletes until the MVG.
“I started competing in the Michigan Victory Games, and I just dominated everything,” said Caine, who had a cancerous brain hemorrhage when he was 10 for which doctors put a shunt in his body that stretched from his head to his stomach, which still affects his balance. “I think I did 13 competitions, and I had 11 first-place finishes.”
Caine said he had a “lightbulb moment,” and he began to take Para sports seriously. Initially, he competed in the 100-meter and discus. He gained weight, worked on his balance and eyed the qualification criteria for the national team.