Man paralyzed in 2015 shooting heads to Paralympic Games

Man paralyzed in 2015 shooting heads to Paralympic Games


When 24-year-old Justin Phongsavanh was shot and left paralyzed from the waist down back in 2015, he never dreamed it would be the start of a journey taking him across the world. “I never thought that I would be an elite athlete,” Phongsavanh said. “I never thought I would be in a wheelchair.” Justin was shot in an Ankeny, Iowa, McDonald’s parking lot in October of 2015. Police told sister station KCCI back then the man who shot Phongsavanh and his friend was a stranger who did it after being upset with their “poor behavior” that night in the restaurant. The bullet hit Phongsavanh’s spine.”If I do drive by the place where everything happened, it doesn’t really bring up any bad emotions or anything,” Phongsavanh said.Fast forward six years later, Phongsavanh has accomplished a lot. He won a gold medal at the PanAmerican Games, placed 4th at the world championships, and recently broke a world record in seated javelin throwing with a throw of 33.29m. Phongsavanh moved to San Diego in 2019 to train hard, but recalls his love for Paralympic Track & Field starting in his home state with Adaptive Sports Iowa. “He started out in our Track and Field program and decided it was totally for him,” said Adaptive Sports Director Hannah Lundeen. Mike Boone was the director who got Phongsavanh hooked on the sport. Boone handed him the gear he needed, which is what Adaptive Sports Iowa does for anyone in their program. The organization offers nine sports and has around 300 Iowans taking part in them this year. “It’s really exciting just to be able to plant that seed and tell them like yes, you can do any sport that you want to and then see them just run with it and have a blast,” Lundeen said.When Phongsavanh took what he learned from Adaptive Sports Iowa, he didn’t know what to expect but now he’s a Paralympian. “We train just as hard as the Olympians. We train in the same facilities,” Phongsavanh said. “We were on the same stage.” Phongsavanh will travel to Tokyo without his loved ones by his side due to pandemic restrictions. He’s disappointed about that but more than anything he’s excited about this opportunity. He said it’s not about making a name for himself, it’s about sharing his message in hopes of encouraging others.”Don’t give up,” he said. “Life does not end because a situation has changed.”

When 24-year-old Justin Phongsavanh was shot and left paralyzed from the waist down back in 2015, he never dreamed it would be the start of a journey taking him across the world.

“I never thought that I would be an elite athlete,” Phongsavanh said. “I never thought I would be in a wheelchair.”

Justin was shot in an Ankeny, Iowa, McDonald’s parking lot in October of 2015. Police told sister station KCCI back then the man who shot Phongsavanh and his friend was a stranger who did it after being upset with their “poor behavior” that night in the restaurant.

The bullet hit Phongsavanh’s spine.

“If I do drive by the place where everything happened, it doesn’t really bring up any bad emotions or anything,” Phongsavanh said.

Fast forward six years later, Phongsavanh has accomplished a lot. He won a gold medal at the PanAmerican Games, placed 4th at the world championships, and recently broke a world record in seated javelin throwing with a throw of 33.29m.

Phongsavanh moved to San Diego in 2019 to train hard, but recalls his love for Paralympic Track & Field starting in his home state with Adaptive Sports Iowa.

“He started out in our Track and Field program and decided it was totally for him,” said Adaptive Sports Director Hannah Lundeen.

Mike Boone was the director who got Phongsavanh hooked on the sport. Boone handed him the gear he needed, which is what Adaptive Sports Iowa does for anyone in their program.

The organization offers nine sports and has around 300 Iowans taking part in them this year.

“It’s really exciting just to be able to plant that seed and tell them like yes, you can do any sport that you want to and then see them just run with it and have a blast,” Lundeen said.

When Phongsavanh took what he learned from Adaptive Sports Iowa, he didn’t know what to expect but now he’s a Paralympian.

“We train just as hard as the Olympians. We train in the same facilities,” Phongsavanh said. “We were on the same stage.”

Phongsavanh will travel to Tokyo without his loved ones by his side due to pandemic restrictions. He’s disappointed about that but more than anything he’s excited about this opportunity.

He said it’s not about making a name for himself, it’s about sharing his message in hopes of encouraging others.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Life does not end because a situation has changed.”


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