Living in a small community has its advantages. All of us know many of the people, but every now and then, you meet someone who has an amazing story to tell, and for the most part, has kept it a secret.
One such person is James Culp, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago. James’ claim to fame, among other things, is long distance marathon running, and when I say long distance, I’m not referring to 10 or 15 km. James runs very lengthy marathons, some of them even at night.
A little bit of background about James. He was born in Dunville, Ontario, the oldest of four children. His father worked at Stelco, and like all kids in that area, he attended Dunville secondary school. As Dunville lies close to Lake Erie, fishing played a big role in James’ young life.
During his high school years, James worked for a local appliance company doing deliveries and installing TV towers. He loved the job and the people so much, he continued working for them after high school, while he decided what he wanted to do with his life.
James had always been interested in law-enforcement, and decided to apply for a career with the Haldimand Police Department, now operated by the OPP. He was accepted, and after a rigorous training course, worked as a police officer for six years. James was intrigued by the law, and decided he wanted to further his studies. He attended Brock University, taking political and judicial courses. To make ends meet, he pumped gas in the evenings, while attending University during the day. It must have paid off, because he graduated with honours.
His next step was law school, however, there was a two-year waiting list, and as James was now in his 30s, he had to find something that would satisfy his needs. Being the hard worker he was, along with the knowledge he had attained, James was quickly offered a position in the Niagara area, managing a security firm. The company's focus was frontline executive protection.
“I remember one of the more notable details I was involved in, was providing security for Conrad Black in his Post Road home. It really opened my eyes, and gave me an opportunity to see a different side of him, other than the one painted by the press,” James explained.
James went on to describe another extremely interesting position he had, as personal guard for Gordie Howe, at the NHL awards banquet. “I was asked by Mr. Howe to sit next to him during dinner, just to keep autograph seekers at bay. It was amazing how he [Howe] opened up and we had a very enjoyable conversation, not to mention exceptional cuisine.”
His career, had given James exceptional skills, and he was offered a part time position with Community Living in Port Perry. “It was a weekend job, and I loved this area so I accepted the offer,” he explained.
To James’ surprise, Community Living offered him a full-time position, to manage the North Durham operation. After careful consideration, he decided to take it, and moved to Port Perry.
It was here that James met his wife to be, Tracey, who also worked for Community Living. The happy couple worked well together, and life was good, but James wanted more. Tracy came across a position available as a probation services manager for the Ontario Public Service sector, and told James about it. “I really believed I had no chance, as I’m sure this position would have been filled internally, however I decided to apply. All the training I had to date, gave me a skill set which would be perfect for this career change.”
James must have done something right during the interview process, because more than 200 people applied, and he was the successful candidate.
His duties were overseeing youth probation, in the recently formed Youth Probation Sector, located in Peterborough. As with any newly formed organization, people wore many hats. James, it turned out, was not only good at managing the operation, but was also quite skilled in labour relations.
Staying within the ministry, he moved to become regional manager for Eastern Ontario, as well as superintendent of Brookside Youth Centre in Cobourg. Since 2014, James has been involved in special projects, and is now the senior manager for the Central Region Youth Justice portfolio.
“I love my job and have no plans to retire,” James said, smiling. I asked him about his marathon running and how he became involved.
I should explain, a 50 km marathon is a breeze for the well-conditioned runner. James has the ability to run for hours on end. While living in Calgary, in the early eighties, James met the sprinting coach for the Canadian Olympic team and learned how to sprint hundred meter dashes. “I thought I was a pretty good runner, but the discipline this group taught me, and to learn how humbling my skills were compared to them, gave me the drive and ambition to do the best I could.”
James started running seriously in 1995, with a 10 km marathon. He now does five or six marathons a year, but his favourite run is a 25 km marathon, which he can complete in under three hours. In summer, he gets out five or six times a week and loves running at night, complete with a headlamp attached to his forehead. “In winter I try to get out two or three times a week, but sometimes the weather just doesn’t allow it, “James said.
I asked him how one prepares for running and his answer was simple, “I just train whenever I can. I use ‘Train Like Madd’, in Port Perry, because they offer a great cross training service, which has really done wonders to keep me in shape.”
As for the future, James is booked for a 12 hour night run, which goes from seven in the evening until seven in the morning. The pandemic has slowed down his marathon entries, but not his running. To sum it up in James’s words, “For me, it’s all about balancing the quality of my life.”
Find out more about James by tuning into The Jonathan van Bilsen television show, premiering March 20th on Rogers TV, Rogerstv.com or YouTube. Chatting with James Culp has made me think about taking up running, but I’m just not sure my dog can keep up.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.