James learned to swim at age twelve and began competing for Hugh B. Bain Junior High School, in Cranston, where he became one of the top freestyle swimmers in the state. He attended Cranston East High School, graduating in 1961 after contributing to the team’s string of three seasons undefeated in dual meets.

1961 saw James as runner-up in the New England Interscholastic Championship meet for the 200 free and Rhode Island State champion in freestyle. He placed second in the balloting for the top Rhode Island Swimmer his senior year.

From the fall of 1961-1965, James attended Southern Connecticut State University. As a freshman, he made an immediate impact setting freshman records in the butterfly and freestyle events. His move to the varsity team the next year saw him break the school records in butterfly and freestyle and take his place as one of the top swimmers in New England. As a senior, he was co-captain of the varsity team. He held the University’s record in the 200 fly. In 1965, James was an NCAA Division II All-American in the 100 butterfly and 200 medley relay.

Jim competed from 1955-65 and contributed significantly to three successful teams. His ten years of swimming saw success as one of the best freestyle swimmers in the Rhode Island high school ranks and as a top butterfly and freestyle competitor in college in New England.

Following graduation from college he became a pilot in the Air Force and is currently a pilot for Continental Airlines.