Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Larry James-- The Mighty Burner Still Burns Bright

Larry James "And where does the power come from to see the race to it's end? It comes from within." Eric LiddellNote: Sadly our friend G Larry James passed away on November 6, 2008 from his battle with cancer. He will be greatly missed.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said: "There are no second acts in American lives" he obviously had never met anyone like Larry James. Larry James has had a second and third act at least as good as his first-- Olympic gold medal winner and world record holder.
Of course Larry is best known as a member of the 1968 United States Olympic 4x400 relay team which held the oldest American running record in track and field 2:56.16, and for winning the Olympic silver medal in the 400 that year. Many long time track and field fans recall Larry's winning 400 leg for Villanova in the 1968 Penn Relays-- named one of the 10 greatest moments in Penn Relays history-- where the "Mighty Burner" ran a 43 second leg beating a Baylor runner who ran "only" a 45 second leg. Long time Villanova coach Jack Pyrah called it the greatest race he had ever seen.

James settled in Smithville, New Jersey with his wife Cynthia to raise a family and to start an even greater second act. He served in the US Marine Corps reserves as a Major. He coached the Larry and Cynthia JamesStockton College (NJ) track and cross country teams and then became Stocktons Athletic Director. During this time James coached thousands of runners through his camps with Browning Ross and later his Mighty Burner Speed Camps (until the mid 90's). I met Larry at one of these camps and consider him the greatest motivator I have ever met. My favorite Larry James saying? "You can only give 100%. That is the max. You can't give any more than that. Anyone who says they just gave 110% probably is used to only giving 75 or 80 % most of the time. "
James has been instrumental in putting Stockton College on the map. He set up training camps at Stockton for the Women's US Olympic basketball team in 1992, and for Saudi Arabia's World Cup Soccer (1994) and Olympic Soccer Teams (1996).
During this time James was inducted in the Villanova Hall of Fame and Sports Wall of Fame, the White Plains High School Hall of Fame, the Penn Relays Wall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. James philosophy seemed to be "The most valuable gift you can give is your time." Somehow he always continued to inspire and find time for those he had met along the way.
James has set the bar even higher for his third act-- his motto: "Once an Olympian always an Olympian, Never former, never past." He was selected to serve as the chair of the USA track and Field Budget and Finance Committee, and has continued to mentor world class athletes as manager for the 1997 World Championship Team in Athens, the 2003 World Championships in France, and the 2004 Olympic Training Camp. He is Dean of Athletics and Recreational Services at Stockton and Pool from the Stockton Sports Centerspearheaded the successful effort to to build a $17 million, 70,000 square foot recreation center which was completed in 2000. The center, contains NCAA state of the art facilities as well as recreational and fitness centers for the use of Stockton students.
Larry hands off to Lee EvansLarry James

As a runner in the late 1960's, Larry James did things other runners didn't think possible.
Stockton decided to return the favor by bringing together many of Larry's friends, co-workers, family and teammates in 2007 with a special event "G. Larry James: Four Decades of Excellence" tribute at the Stockton Sports Center. Those in the over 1000 in attendance included his world record setting teammates from the 1968 Olympic 4 X 400 team: Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman and Lee Evans. At the tribute the Stockton track and soccer facility was renamed the "G Larry James Stadium" and a legacy fund was created in Larry's name to benefit deserving students.

Former Villanova teammate Dave Patrick recalled Villanova's famous 1968 Penn Relays victorious mile relay:

"28,000 fans (with most rooting for the hometown Wildcats) were just waiting for
this event. Rice's Dale Bernauer had a 15-yard lead going into the anchor leg,
43.9 at Penn Relays, 1968 but you could see by the look on his face that nothing would stop Larry. The roar of the crowd was unbelievable--deafening". James not only caught Bernauer, he never let up and went on to win by about 10 yards.
Sitting in the stands, Patrick and other Wildcats checked their watches to see what James's split was.
They all had the same thought--"I must have messed up--no one can run that fast". "And then", continued Patrick, "we hear Jack O'Reilly (the late "Voice of the Relays") say, `Larry James just ran 43...
and you couldn't hear the rest, the roar was so loud". James had run an incredible 43.9 anchor (for yards!), the fastest relay split in history at the time. James was encouraged by his teammates to take a victory lap in front of the thousands of fans who were still buzzing about James' incredible performance.
Patrick concluded his time at the microphone by telling James that Erv Hall, one of his 1968 teammates (and the Olympic silver medalist in the 110-hurdles) had a gift for him. James had to be convinced it wasn't a practical joke, but then opened the box to find a Villanova warm-up shirt, emblazoned with his worthy nickname, "The Mighty Burner", and his Penn split--43.9y. At that point, all of his Villanova teammates stood up, each holding their own copy of the shirt. -- Used by Permission and Courtesy of Walt Murphy.

Of course Larry continues to inspire others despite his battle with cancer. His philosophy is simple and direct: "Dream Big - Plan It - Do It" Larry continues to inspire. He spoke last month at the Gilda's Club South Jersey "Teen's Touched by Cancer Conference" at Stockton. Larry has always gone wherever he is needed the most. He also provides virtual inspiration through his beloved "The Inspiration Guy" web page. Here is a sample of one of Larry's positive posts from The Inspiration Guy:
"The Law of the Garbage Truck"

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport.We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches!
The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean he was really friendly. So I asked, “Why did you just do that?
This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!” This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck.” He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment.
As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you.
Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.
The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day. Life’s too short to wake up in the morning with regrets,so….. “Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don’t.” Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it!
Larry James has made the world a better place through his actions and caring. He has used his God-Given talent and world class heart and hard work to do the simple things that no one else had ever been able to do as well-- whether it was running one lap on the track faster than anyone else has ever done or to be the difference maker in so many lives. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: "Action is character." Or as former Stockton Dr. Vera King-Ferris, said, “The ‘G’ in G. Larry James stands for George, but I like to think it stands for GREAT.”
A Larry James Stockton Legacy Fund 5k run and walk has been established in 2008-- the race was held at Stockton and proceeds will benefit the G. Larry James Legacy Fund.

To see the G Larry James Website: http://jamesgl.com/AboutLarry.aspx Victory stand 1968 OlympicsFreeman, Evans, James 400 finish in 1968 Olympics, Mexico City
For information on Gilda's Club South Jersey: http://www.gildasclubsouthjersey.org/aboutus.htmor contact: sarah@gildasclubsouthjersey.org
For information on the G. Larry James Legacy site and to make a contribution: http://intraweb.stockton.edu/eyos/page.cfm?siteID=145&pageID=1
Written by Jack Heath


jamie bagley said...

Great post.
Great men deserve great honor!

John Stratton said...

Jack, I think Larry would be very happy with this great post.He was a remakable man who led a remarkable life. Larry had a strong faith in God which increased as the years went by. Larry believed that because of his personal faith in Jesus, he would spend eternity in Heaven. Larry has probably already set the new record in Heaven for 400 meters 32.3 seconds... and is waitng for someone to push him. I'm looking forwad to watching him run again and hanging out with him.
Thanks Jack,you did a great job!
John Stratton

Bonnie Ross said...

Jack, thank you for sharing this wonderful article about a truly inspiring man. I feel so fortunate to have known him, and am grateful to you for allowing others the opportunity to emulate Larry's qualities.

robert said...

alvabigJack, I along with others who knew larry appreciate your kind words and history of larry's life and accomplishments. I am one of his student athletes at Stockton in the mid 80's and can give specific
accounts to his wisdom and humbleness. Larry did in fact pass
his legacy on in world class spirit if we study his writing and share stories of how he shared his experiences with many of those who could see his brightness shining
towards living a life that is golden (medals & world records) for
the mighty burner were only the candles on the cake. THE BURNER STILL LIVES- along with his inspirational message.

Bob Heisler said...

I winessed Larry James's stunning victory at the 1968 Penn Relays. I was seated near the finish line and I had a Hanhart stopwatch on his split. Like everyone else there I was in awe of Larry's accomplishment. It was the most thrilling athletic event I have ever seen. In 1970 I was the groundskeeper for the track at Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA. It was a real treat to see Larry James run at a small meet there that summer. I am very sorry that he has passed away.