From Chasing Rabbits to Setting Records: The Amazing Story of Larry James

Illustration by Felicia Barber

Fairview, New York, 1954

A seven year old boy and his mother are traveling to his Aunt’s house. When they arrive, the boy notices a neighborhood resident with two large beautiful hunting dogs going into a field in search of rabbits. The boy asks his mother, “Mom, can I go with him?” The mother replies, “I have to ask Mr. Simmons.” Mr. Simmons agrees.

Mr. Simmons and the boy travel into the field with the dogs. The boy notices a rabbit and points it out to Mr. Simmons. Mr. Simmons alerts his dogs who begin to sniff for the scent of the rabbit. Before the dogs have even caught the scent, the boy takes off like a rocket and catches the rabbit.

The seven year old boy in this story is Larry James, an American Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist in track, and the first African American in both categories from the State of New York. This story was given to us in a personal interview with Larry’s mother, Ms. Martha James, on March 26, 2019.  Martha James is very active in the Greenburgh community.

Larry James was born on November 6, 1947 in Mount Pleasant. His ambition in high school was to play football, but a close friend of his who was on the football team said, “Larry, you are not a football player, you are better off on the track team.”

Following this friend’s advice, he tried out for the track team, easily qualified, and set many records thereafter. He earned the nickname “Mighty Burner.”

After graduation from High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Villanova University. While there, he continued to excel at track and was nominated for the Olympic Trials which were held in Echo Summit, California. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic team when he ran a time of 44.1 seconds in the 400 meters, placing second to Lee Evans, who became his teammate at the Olympics and close friend.

Mexico City, Mexico 1968

At the age of 21, the 6-foot 155 pound Larry James, entered the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. There, he earned a silver medal in the 400 meters with a time of 43.9 seconds and a gold medal in the 4x400m relay with a time of 2 minutes and 56 seconds. This was a world record which was not broken until 1992.

From 1973 until 2001, he served as the athletic director of Stockton College. He passed away on November 6, 2008, at the age of 61, due to colon cancer but his legacy, which is preserved in Stockton College ‘s Larry James Scholarship fund and the “Mighty Burner” Speed Camp for training young athletes, will live on forever.

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