"What the Pros Know: The Real Mr. Universe"

What the Pros Know: The Real Mr. Universe

James Lorimer ’49 is a World War II veteran, attorney and FBI agent, an Ohio mayor and vice president of government affairs for Nationwide Mutual Insurance.

But perhaps the most rewarding part of his long, accomplished—and eclectic—career is his involvement in the world of sports and physical fitness.

A member of the International Sports Hall of Fame, Lorimer served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and founded the multi-continent Arnold Sports Festival with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ursinus Magazine recently had a chance to get “pumped up” with Jim.

A Bear For Life

Ursinus was one of the most meaningful periods in my life. I was raised in the little community of Morrisville, Pa., in Bucks County, and I lived through the Great Depression in the 1930s and went into the Navy. After the end of World War II, I did some exploration and found out that Ursinus College was a great school a close distance from my home. I went over to Ursinus in my Navy uniform and asked to talk to the president [Norman Egbert McClure]. I told him I wanted to come to Ursinus and was accepted. The G.I. Bill provided me with enough support to go to college. I loved the liberal arts education that I received and I always valued it as preparing me to live rather than how to make a living.

A Career in Law

In my early teens I wrote to J. Edgar Hoover and said that I was interested in becoming an FBI agent. He wrote me back and he said, “I very much appreciate your interest and in order for you to become an agent you must first become an attorney.” After graduating from Ursinus, I went to Penn State’s Dickinson Law and in my senior year, the FBI came to campus recruiting lawyers and CPAs. My wife and I decided that we would pursue that route rather than going into law practice. That proved very meaningful for me in my career, as I later went on to work in the private sector with Nationwide Insurance. I was going to take a position there temporarily, but I spent 37 years there. I have also served as mayor or vice mayor in Worthington, Ohio, for the past 50 years. But sports promotion was something else. And that is what really took over my later career.

The U.S. Olympic Committee

I was secretary of the U.S. Olympic Committee in the early 1960s, and I was chair of the Olympic committee for women’s track and field from 1964-68. In the sports community at the time, women were not being given the opportunity to compete. That was one of the most surprising things to me. The whole game changed with Title IX and what we’re seeing now has been fantastic. Recently, I had my national champion Ohio Track Club girls team in my office for a 55th anniversary event. They were telling me about how, as teenagers, the opportunity to express themselves competitively had made a tremendous difference in their lives. That was one of the more rewarding evenings of my life, getting to hear them share what the life lessons of sports had meant to them.

Jim and ArnoldMeeting Arnold

In 1967, I was asked to run the national championships in weightlifting and that was so successful I was asked to run the World Weightlifting Championships in 1970. That is when I met Arnold. I called ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports and I told them we were going to be having the WWC and Mr. World competition in Columbus, Ohio. It was the first time national TV was covering weightlifting and bodybuilding. I knew I had to get the top bodybuilders in the world. I started calling them and one I identified was a young Austrian. He said that he understood the significance of the TV audience and that he really wished he could be there, but he had made a commitment to be in the Mr. Universe contest on that Saturday evening in London. But after that contest, he took the last flight out and we got him to Columbus for the Sunday contest. He came up to me after the event and said it was the best contest he’d ever been in. He told me that when he was done competing in the sport, he wanted to go into the promotion of the sport and would come back to Columbus and be my partner. We’ve been on that handshake partnership since 1975. The growth of the Arnold Sports Festival has been a wonderful experience in many ways and you must remember that for me it all started with a girls track team.

A Global Phenomenon

There have been many rewarding moments with the Arnold Sports Festival. We now have events on six continents involving thousands of people at each location. To give an idea of the scope, the Olympic Games in both Brazil and London had about 10,000 athletes and 30 sports. Our event here in Columbus has 20,000 athletes and 70 events. And each one of our partners on each continent has at least 10,000 athletes and 30 sports. It is meaningful to me how many lives are impacted favorably by our events and the number of people participating in sports and fitness.

Jim Lorimer Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Arnold SchwarzeneggarLifetime Achievement

I was honored with the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic Lifetime Achievement Award and those kind of recognitions are very pleasant, but I think having had the opportunity to serve in the FBI, then have a reasonably fun career at Nationwide and get involved in so many things locally in the community have all been very good life experiences. It was all predicated upon a great educational opportunity at Ursinus. One life lesson is: when you’re out there trying, one pathway will lead to another, and that’s the joy and fun of living.