Justin Kaelin doesn’t lift in state-of-the-art weight rooms or attend prestigious throwers camps. His father often loses sight of him from the grandstands when the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder walks behind one of his competitors.
But few are stronger or more explosive. The senior at Eatonville High School has been the top thrower in the state the past two years — not only in the 1A classification — because of a work ethic developed from summers bucking hay bales, chopping wood and working on cars.
His house is just outside of Eatonville, down a dirt road between a line of trees. Old cars, trucks and tractors (Kaelin’s father, Reg, says he’s a gatherer, not a hoarder as his wife might say) are parked to the sides with a wood shed to the left. Kaelin’s most frequented weight facility is the one up the stairs and down the hall in the same room he used to share a bunk bed with his older brother, Jordan.
It was a little different last year when he traveled to the University of Oregon for the Oregon Relays for the first time. He won the shot put competition with a throw of 58 feet, 2 inches with technique he perfected by watching YouTube videos.
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“It was really crowded,” Kaelin said. “A lot of people. I don’t like big crowds. I like it out here with the trees and everything. You’re just kind of by yourself.”
Throwing really began for Kaelin as a way to stay in shape for football. He played defensive end for the Cruisers’ football team and will play for College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California, next season.
Kaelin threw the shot put 58-4½ at last year’s Nisqually League championship meet for the top mark in the state.
He’ll be competing for his second consecutive state title in the shot put at the 1A/2B/1B track and field championships at Eastern Washington University this week, entering with a state-best mark of 59-5½.
Former teammate Lucas Hatton, now throwing at Pacific Lutheran University, owes Kaelin a Mexican dinner at a local restaurant if Kaelin can pass 60 feet, though that would still be 9 feet, 11 inches short of Mount Tahoma graduate Vince Goldsmith’s state record set in 1977.
“(Kaelin) is just very explosive and that’s where he separates himself,” Eatonville track and field coach Geoff Olson said. “You don’t have to be big and strong. You have to be explosive.”
But strength certainly helps.
Kaelin said he can bench 365 pounds. He said he helps unload about 600 hay bales a year into his grandmother’s barn at her 20-acre farm. She has about 10 cows, including Angus, Herefords and a pair of Scottish Highlanders.
His work ethic was recognized well before he walked into the halls at Eatonville High School. Kaelin was 11 he went to help his other older brother, Jeremiah (now 25), and some of Jeremiah’s high school friends pick up hay bales at a neighbor’s house.
“I told him, ‘Go ahead and go down there,’ even though they didn’t ask for him,” Reg Kaelin said. “I said, ‘If you don’t get paid, I’ll pay you. But don’t ask for the money.’
“Toward the end of the day he was outworking half of the high school kids. At 11. (Our neighbor) thought he was a high schooler. He said, ‘What grade are you in?’ Justin says, ‘Sixth’ and he goes, ‘ What?’ ”
It was certainly good for Kaelin’s hay-bucking operation. Reg Kaelin said all the neighbors who need help request Justin. He just hasn’t had time for much else — including throw camps.
It’s a lifestyle instilled from his father, who was too busy working on his own parents’ farm in Graham to play sports as a child.
“We used to go to school, you get good grades, you go home, get a snack and start working,” Reg Kaelin said. “You could either split firewood, clean the barn, or pick rocks out of the field. That was the funnest job because you got to drive an old ’49 Ford pickup and load it with rocks so the grass would grow for the cows.”
Reg Kaelin was 13 when he asked his father to help rebuild his first truck — a 1956 Ford. He said he spent his weekends cutting firewood and selling it to pay for all of the parts.
“My dad had a 16-foot flatbed I could get four cords in,” said Reg Kaelin, who now works in construction. “And Saturday night, when my buddies were out drinking beer or whatever, I was loading another four cords of wood for Sunday because I had to get that money to pay for the truck.”
That truck was finished a couple weeks before he graduated.
Justin Kaelin began working on a blue and white 1979 Ford F-250 his freshman year and just recently began driving it to school. The blue now matches Eatonville’s school colors better.
One of the first things Justin did in it was drive his mother to breakfast on a Sunday.
His father said one of the few times he has seen Justin get upset was when he broke some bolts working on the truck. The other was when Justin fell short of defending his shot put title at the Oregon Relays in April. He took second with a throw of 54-1.
But that’s who Justin is — an easygoing, hard worker who doesn’t take things too seriously.
“To win a second state title would mean a lot,” Kaelin said. “I’ve worked hard for it, so if it happens, then awesome. But whatever happens, happens.”
“He’s just a great kid,” Olson said. “He’s one of those kids you’ll look back 15 years and you’ll say, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever have a kid like Justin again.’ ”