Devin Huhta competes at the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships. (Photo: Rick Stephens)
As a 38-year-old competing in shot put, Devin Huhta doesn’t always have time on his side.
That doesn’t deter the very motivated Huhta, who is legally blind and was recently named to his first U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Team. At first, he didn’t believe it. The invitation came via email, which was read to him via a voiceover program, and he had to forward it to his wife to make sure of what he just heard.
“It took a few days to set in. I’m excited,” said Huhta, who lives in his native Battle Mountain, Nevada.
The selection also validated the work Huhta has been doing in recent years. As a form of celebration, Huhta went out to take a few throws. Despite a three-month layoff, he said he had four throws of about 46 feet. That was enough.
“It’s reinvigorated me, man,” Huhta said. “Age is just a number. Let’s get in there, let’s keep doing what I’ve been doing. ... The biggest thing we’ve got to do is just try and avoid injury and find more competitions.”
The U.S. record-holder at 14.27 meters (about 46 feet, 10 inches) in the F12 class after breaking the mark three times in 2021, Huhta has had to overcome obstacles thrown at him in life and his career. Most notably, a severe back injury probably should have ended his time as an elite athlete, he said.
“I blew out my L-4 S-5 in 2017 and it was pretty bad,” Huhta said. “My doctors here, they didn’t know what was going on. They kept X-raying and my whole leg’s convulsing. It basically felt like I was being skinned alive and somebody’s dumping battery acid on my leg.”
Initially, he tried rest, hoping his body would heal without the violent actions and stress of being a thrower. After about four months of that, he was able to resume going to the gym. That approach worked for a bit, but by the end of 2018, Huhta said he was unable to stand or sit for more than 10 minutes at a time.
“It got pretty miserable,” Huhta said.
An MRI showed a bone calcifying into his spine, prompting his doctor to recommend Huhta quit competing. Not ready to give up, Huhta stumbled upon an unusual form of exercise for someone who is 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds. Going stir-crazy, he went to the gym with his wife one day and discovered DDP Yoga, created by former pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.
“I’ve rehabilitated my back,” Huhta said. “I can’t lift weights like I used to, but I’ve been able to incorporate them in there.”
Most notably, Huhta chose to not have major surgery to repair his back.
“They say it’s only 50 percent successful,” Huhta said with a large chuckle. “I live in a gambling state, and I don’t gamble.”
Keeping after his dream was one motivation. But he also learned that work ethic through his other career working in mines in Nevada and New Mexico after majoring in diesel technology in college. Huhta’s work took him to places that he says stored the AIDS and Ebola viruses as well as radioactive waste. He also worked in a salt mine.
“You get a problem, just stick with it,” Huhta said. “Eventually, you’ll figure it out.”
Huhta, who also had his own gunsmithing business, was a wrestler in high school, which led him to try shot put and discus. There are similarities in the three disciplines in that they are individualistic within a team concept, and they force you to use your body in ways to give you an advantage.
In 2022, Huhta felt he needed to revamp his shot put mechanics. Coach Mike Curry of California-based Golden State Throwers said Huhta got away with “stupid stuff” because of his excellent athleticism. So Huhta started to refine his throwing process.
As with any change to an athlete’s craft, it took time for Huhta to see consistent production. While he had slightly longer throws, the mechanics didn’t totally click in until late in the season. Some of those changes included staying back on his left leg early, not over rotating and keeping better control of his left (non-throwing) arm.
“It’s just the nature of the sport,” Huhta said. “Especially throwing because you’re trying to do so much stuff in a matter of a second that sometimes you’re not even aware of what you’re doing. Then you’re trying to create and build new tracks for your body to follow and breaking it down and creating new muscle memory, that takes a lot of time.”
Time is suddenly on Huhta’s side. Huhta said the qualifying standard for his class for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 is 11.5 meters, a mark he can easily surpass.
“My ultimate goal is to throw for the next six years,” Huhta said, “and after LA in 2028, that’s it. Like, I’m 44 years old. I’ve had my fun, I’m going to take my ball and go home, thanks for the ride. That’s the long-term goal. From there, it’s mindset and I can’t wait to meet new people and learn new things.”