Ian James wants youth in the Williams Lake area to have the same kind of world-class opportunities he was afforded in sports.
The city’s new director of community services, who started the job on Aug. 12, is a former two-time Canadian Olympic track and field athlete in long jump in 1988 and 1992, and competed as a member of the Texas A&M NCAA division one track and field team while earning a degree in recreation and parks administration and a diploma in recreation facilities.
James, 56, had been working in Sundre, Alta. as the city’s community services manager before taking on semi-retirement and moving with his wife to Costa Rica. He has over 25 years experience managing recreation facilities and programs.
“I started to get bored,” he said of testing retirement. “I needed to do something, and I’ve always been more of a rural person. My kids are all grown up in Northern Ontario and after about eight months (in Costa Rica) I had the craving for my industry, interacting with people and the business side of things.”
James’ focus on youth development and providing opportunities for the community will be at the forefront, he said, after he was lucky enough to be identified at a young age as a future track and field star.
“I’ve always said, the most talented kids are out there walking around on the street and don’t even know it,” he said. “My job is to help provide opportunities and programs and activities to get these kids involved with teams and associations in the community.”
James recalls growing up in Mississauga, Ont. when his physical education teacher changed the course of his life during a school track meet.
“I entered like four running events, and I really didn’t know anything about track and field,” he said. “By the last one I was totally exhausted and my friends and I walked over to the McDonalds. I’m standing there with my ice cream and my teacher runs over and says: ‘Hey! You’ve got one more event, the long jump.’ I was ready to be done at that point.
“But I went back over there and I was standing there waiting my turn, watching the other kids jump, and I ran down that track and jumped, and there was just a look on everyone’s faces. They were all looking at me kind of in awe. I had no idea [I had jumped so far] and was asking if I won.
“I got awarded a first-place ribbon so I thought that was pretty cool, and from there things kind of took off. I’ll never forget that moment and feeling in my life and that’s why it’s so important to provide these opportunities to kids.”
His teacher then approached him about training competitively in the sport and, two years later, he was identified for the Canadian national track and field program and began travelling from Milton, Ont. to Toronto to train. Things took off from there, he said.
While a member of the national program, James jumped at a scholarship opportunity at Texas A&M in order to earn his education.
He went on to become an 11-time Canadian champion and was the first Canadian to break the eight-metre barrier in long jump. Aside from competing at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992, he won a bronze medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
In 1996, James tore his Achilles tendon, effectively putting a halt to his Olympic aspirations.
“I’ve been blessed as a person,” he said. “And I want to keep giving back and I have the privilege to do that through my profession and also through volunteering. Every level of [sport] I appreciate, right from the learning stages to the top.”
So far, James said he’s thoroughly enjoying the community, environment and his colleagues in Williams Lake.
“It’s been great so far,” he said. “I’m still getting a feel for things, but my main focus is to develop more programs for youth in the community.”
While his children were growing up James coached basketball at the youth, elementary and high school levels, and worked with athletes in an elite development role at York University. Basketball is another sport James said he’d like to see take off in the lakecity.
“The more programs we have for youth, it spins off from there,” he said.
“I want to hear feedback from the community as to what programs people want to see and to make sure we have all the right relationships in place with the schools, and other facilities, to make those happen.”
James said he’s been especially impressed by the facility at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex, and the outdoor trail network offered in Williams Lake. James is stepping into the position replacing long-time director of community services Geoff Paynton, whose last day of work was July 5.
“I’m looking forward to assisting in the development of trails we have,” he said.
“Even for adults and seniors. Being outdoors and things like that can help people socially, spiritually, and when I walk those trials and see the families and the kids out with their parents, it’s special.”
Broadly, James hopes to help create a more sustainable community that can live a balanced, healthy life.
“Sports taught me many things,” he said. “It teaches you how to win, friendships, how to lose and how to deal with losing. It’s kind of old fashioned but it really does take a community to raise a child.
“I want to be able to pass my knowledge on to others. I’m very grateful, and I want to be able to not only work professionally, but volunteer my time to give back to the community in the same way.”