Born to a single mother and raised with the help of his grandmother and two uncles in Waianae, Hawaii, James knew that he was clumsy as a child, but he didn’t know why. At 20, he got a job at a paint store that required him to be on his feet eight hours a day. James found the standing incredibly tiring and repeatedly asked his boss for sitting breaks. His boss advised him to see a doctor; one doctor led to another and eventually James was diagnosed with CMT and outfitted with leg braces. The diagnosis left James stunned. He initially rebelled and threw his AFOs in the trash. While he later relented and got new AFOs (this time paying out of his own pocket), James was determined not to let his CMT get in the way of his dreams.
James’ first “real” job was working as an investigator for the Bank of Hawaii. The job was interesting and financially rewarding, but bad for his health. In just two years, James watched his weight balloon from 140 to 200 pounds. Determined to get his weight under control, James went online and found the CMTAthletes website (now at www.facebook.com/groups/cmtathletes). He was amazed to learn that people with CMT were competing in full-distance Ironman triathlons. He decided that if they could do it, so could he. James started training, quickly dropping the pounds and increasing his fitness. In time, he started entering competitions. He started with a sprint triathlon, then completed the Tinman Triathlon, and by 2012 had decided to aim for the big time, the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
To train for the Ironman World Championship, James competed in three races in 2012: The Dick Evans Road Race (a 112-mile bike ride), the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles). Then it was time for an Ironman. James won a lottery slot for the Kona Ironman World Championships, but needed to complete an Ironman race to validate his slot. James’ first full-distance Ironman triathlon was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Only two racers showed up to compete in the Physically Challenged Division, James and a man named Edward Sproull. When Edward finished the swim with a substantial lead, James thought he was in trouble, but he managed to overtake his rival during the cycling portion and never relinquished his lead. James won first place in his division and headed to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii!
Limited to just 2,000 athletes, the Ironman World Championship is one of the premier athletic events in the world. During the race, James reports that his thoughts were on all of the people who supported him on his journey, especially his mom, a cancer survivor, his family and all of the people affected by CMT around the world. James finished in third place in his division and made everyone with CMT incredibly proud!
Recently, James was appointed as the new executive director of Network Enterprises Inc., which provides vocational rehabilitation, job training, job placement and support services to Hawaiian residents with physical, social, economic and/or intellectual/cognitive challenges. James is thrilled to be working for the good of his community.
James says that his CMT presents him with challenges every day, including opening toothpaste caps, buttoning his shirt, typing, texting, working on his bike, working with knives and working with anything hot. James puts on his TurboMed* braces as soon as he gets out of bed in the morning. Despite his myriad challenges and busy career, James completed the 2016 Boston Marathon (his second) and a Honu Ironman 70.3 in Hawaii in June 2016. James advises everyone with CMT to engage in some form of exercise. In his words, “A fit body is the key to everything else. If you don’t feel healthy, you won’t perform at your best in any part of your life. Don’t worry if others are better than you. Do the best you can. The only person you are really competing with is yourself.”
*James says that before he got his TurboMed braces, he was breaking a pair of carbon fiber AFOs about every six months. He recently became a TurboMed sponsored athlete and says the braces, which he calls the best he has ever used, appear to be virtually indestructible. The company offers a two-year warranty and a 100 percent refund if returned within two months (www.turbomedorthotics.com).