Justin Caine started to compete in track and field events for the first time in 2016 when he was thirty-one years old. Now, two years later, he has broken the US shot put record over ten times, has won back to back National championships in long jump, 100m dash, and shot put, and has had multiple wins at the Meijer State Games of Michigan. His late start in track and field events and his great achievements in only two years are already feats to be proud of, but Justin's story goes much further than that.
When Justin was still a kid, he suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by a brain tumor. This resulted in cognitive and physical disabilities. Justin beat cancer but still has disabilities that affect his day to day life. Through his grade school years, Justin watched his brother and cousin excel in sports while Justin never thought of himself as a potential star athlete.
"I was never encouraged to be in sports when I was growing up. I never saw that as an opportunity for me."
Not until later in his life did Justin become active. He started lifting and exercising regularly until he found an interest in the events that now Justin is thriving in. When Justin started track and field he received little training. Justin signed up for his first event, the Great Lakes Adult Regional Games, and he competed in three events: long jump, shot put, and discus. Coming from his home state of Michigan to Illinois the day before the event to be categorized, Justin wasn't sure how the following day would go. The next day, Justin competed and took home first place in all three of the events. He even broke the US record with his discus throw.
"I had no idea how to actually throw a discus...I knew you had to get it out as far as you could."
After his wins, Justin remembers saying to his wife, Meaghan Caine, "honey, I'm pretty good at this stuff". And he is. Justin started to get more involved after that. For awhile, a coach worked on athleticism and skills with Justin at the gym, but soon the main way Justin learned was with YouTube videos. This created an obstacle for Justin.
"With my disability I have memory issues...I'm watching youtube videos and I have to try to remember things...I might watch a video and practice for an hour and then watch another video and see I was doing x,y, and z wrong and have to go back and adjust it."
Even with this, Justin has continued to dominate in track and field. He has broken the shot put record over 10 times, won numerous titles in all his events, and is continuing to work toward being an athlete at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Justin tries to compete in as many competitions during the year to stay competitive and to continue improving. The Paralympic committee asks athletes to compete in at least six events during the year. Yet, as a husband and father as well as a business owner, Justin says the few Paralympic competitions that happen are too far away. Which is one of the reasons he loves competing for the Meijer State Games of Michigan.
"the [Meijer] state games are, first of all, awesome because there are all these games and sports."
A friend, a competitive rower in the Meijer State Games, told Justin track and field events were offered and Justin's Meijer State Games career began. The Meijer State Games are different from other events that Justin attends. At other events, athletes are focused on being competitive and as someone who trains themselves, Justin says the best place to go for advice isn't at Paralympic competitions but at the Meijer State Games.
"[The Meijer state games] is where there's people that are trying to bring everyone up and everyone is trying to have a good time and, of course, the focus is still trying to do their best."
For Justin, the Meijer State Games is a place to compete as well as learn. Other athletes are open books that are willing to offer help even though they are offering it to other competitors. The comradery at the Meijer State Games as well as the many sports offered can almost be a distraction from the main purpose of the weekend which is to compete at the highest level.
Justin learned the hard way that competition weekends are meant to be enjoyed after the competition is done. When Justin qualified for the 2016 Paralympics, he traveled to in North Carolina. Being so caught up in the atmosphere of athletes and the sheer size of this accomplishment distracted him and he didn't compete at his highest level. Justin didn't make it the Paralympics that year, but he took away an important lesson that he has applied ever since.
"You can have fun after the event and celebrate your competition but laser in before. know what you are going for and then aim to do that to the best of your ability."
This is the advice Justin wants other athletes to keep in mind when heading to the Meijer State Games. After working hard to improve and setting goals to accomplish personal bests or take home a title, the last obstacle an athlete should let get in their way is being distracted by the external aspects of the competition. Yet, Justin doesn't want people to forget to enjoy themselves. Competing is a great opportunity to be involved in events and see what skills you can keep working on improving.
"[I'm] basically training a hundred or more hours a year for only a handful of opportunities to jump or throw or run. it's definitely about you having a passion for it."
Justin's passion for his track and field events are what keeps him searching for these few and far between opportunities to compete in events. With all the achievements he already has, his goal now is to make the Parapan US or world team next year and to go to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
To Para athletes, Justin wants them to know there are people that want to offer them help and advice to excel in athletics. Justin didn't have the opportunities growing up, but as athletics becomes more inclusive, young para athletes are getting chances that Justin didn't have. Above everything else though, Justin says being your own advocate is what will help you reach your goals.
"There's going to be people that are out there that are going to doubt you but there are going to be people that support you. i'm one of them. you just have to be that advocate so that you get a chance to do what you want to do. succeed or fail. you need that chance."
Sign up to compete at the Meijer State Games and to get a full list of the events this summer click here.