U.S. Paralympics Tra... Features Late Start To Para T...

Late Start To Para Track Career Is Motivation For Long Jumper Justin Caine

By Ryan Wilson | Oct. 27, 2020, 5:38 p.m. (ET)

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.

I finally came to the realization that even though I was setting the U.S. record in shot put, I was still about 20th in the world.

But with his finishes, he wasn’t going to make a Paralympic Games, and his disability didn’t allow him to throw as far as he wanted.

“I finally came to the realization that even though I was setting the U.S. record in shot put, I was still about 20th in the world,” he said.

So Caine made a few physical changes. He went from weighing 190 pounds to roughly 140, and he started eating “right.” He is now under 10 percent body fat and focusing on the long jump.

“I totally changed my body,” he said. “People start taking notice, too, of my body transformation. … I converted my body to try to make this run even at the wrong end of 30 (years old).” 

He added: “I’m able to see my abs and everything, love it! I love it.”

Caine said it has been hard and frustrating to jump into elite Para sport at his age. When he was a child, he did not compete in any sport. He was also trying to avoid contact sports with his shunt. 

“Most sports were just thrown out the window,” he said. “I never had the chance to experience that, so I never desired it. … I did nothing through school.”

The Paralympic hopeful didn’t have the opportunity to grow and compete in junior national events alongside younger disabled athletes. 

Caine now trains on his own in between managing the two businesses he owns and spending time with his two daughters. The Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) in Chicago has brought him on its GLASA team, and he is connecting with elite Paralympians young and old. 

He once received a surprise message from Roderick Townsend, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in long jump. Townsend offered reassurance for Caine’s progress thus far, and he invited Caine to one of his practices.

“One day, just out of the blue, he was like, ‘Hey man, I’m really impressed by what you’ve done, and how you’ve transformed your body,’” Caine said. “That was just an amazing feel. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ because that really legitimized what I’m doing is right.”

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandField.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.