From Steel to Glass, then Medal

From Steel to Glass, then Medal

Justin Phongsavanh is a Laotian American Javelin Throwing Olympian who has managed to lead with bravery under difficult circumstances.

In 2015, Justin was shot by a mentally ill veteran who attacked Justin and his friend in a McDonald’s parking lot. The incident left Justin paralyzed from the waist down. After the incident, Justin felt he had two options…. To either kill himself or live life to the absolute fullest and attain all of his dreams. He did just that. Justin went on to win the Bronze Medal in Javelin Throw at the 2020 Summer Paralympics. Justin not only attained his dreams of being in the Olympics, but he is also a positive force in his community. He regularly talks to school children about disability and diversity inclusion. Adopted at a young age after his biological parents were incarcerated, Justin is also committed to supporting adopted children who suffer trauma.

Notes from the Filmmaker

We are filled with tremendous pride, respect, and joy when we see a member of the AAPI community showcasing excellence while representing our country on the international stage. It's a win for our community, and Justin brought us that win. But he's so much more than an accomplished athlete. His personal history is an example of a person living life to make the world a better place than he found it.

The way Justin champions AAPI representation and diversity inclusion through his accomplishments is just one aspect of his service to the AAPI community. What's critical is his drive to look around and give back. Justin found success in things he does well but he's making sure that he's bringing others with him. That's a hero in our book. Our job as storytellers is to advocate for our community. We believe that we need to document Justin's story to honor his contributions and help amplify his mission because it's so important to be inspired and see examples of others overcoming challenges and, importantly, taking care of others.

— Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee

About the Filmmaker

Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee are a filmmaking duo from Flushing, Queens, New York. They’ve been friends since high school, bonding over love for Starcraft, Linkin Park, spicy deli beef patties and iced coffees even during frigid New York winters.

But it was their passion for filmmaking and shared mission to tell relatable stories that bloomed into a working partnership. Their collaborative filmmaking approach in narrative short films, documentaries, and other video projects eventually allowed them to create "Happy Cleaners", their debut narrative feature-length film about their Korean American immigrant experience. Embraced by audiences for its authentic storytelling, the film garnered numerous honors at various film festivals, including "Emerging Filmmaker Award," and "Audience Choice Award.” The film’s reception further fuels the duo’s ambition to depict meaningful stories that are for all audiences.

Film Crew


Julian Kim


Peter S. Lee


Isabel Gomez


Mike Fraser


Nathaniel Pinheiro


Nice Shoes


Phil Choe


Tamera Shinn


Zach Scheitlin

Audio Mixer

John Baker


Julian Kim