At 6’8”, you would think that the only sport James Jeffs excels at is basketball. However, the 18-year-old senior at Water Canyon High School in Utah is a talented cross-country runner whose extra long stride carried him to a 7th place finish during Wednesday’s Utah State High School Activities Association state cross-country meet.

No doubt, his presence is large out there on the 3.1-mile course, but his backstory is grand in nature as well.

Six years ago, Jeffs was living under the eye of his father’s half-brother, Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) who was sentenced to a life in prison — plus 20 years –for aggravated sexual assault of two teenage girls who he believed were his ‘spiritual wives.’



James Jeffs’ parents were ordered to leave the community in 2012 when Warren accused them of “murdering unborn children, having evil in his heart and being immoral, among other vague transgressions,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune. But, they left James and many of his 15 siblings behind.

Seven months later, the Jeffs returned for their children to start anew.

James Jeffs played basketball while growing up but never ran long distance. Once he was off the FLDS compound, he decided to take up one of his older brother’s invitations to go out for the cross-country team.

His first high school practice in 2015 included a 2.5-mile run.

“I stopped and walked some of the way,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It wasn’t until about two or three practices later I went the full distances without walking.”

But, he excelled quickly to the point where he was his school’s fastest runner by the end of his first season.



An Australian program called Down Under Sports invited him to train on the Gold Coast with other talented teen runners. So, Jeffs’ new community in Hildale, Utah raised nearly $10,000 for the teen and his father to travel abroad and train. It was the younger Jeffs’ first plane ride.

As for Jeffs’ future, he plans on studying engineering in college. No schools have expressed interest in him yet, but if he does sign somewhere, expect his athletic career to continue rumbling on, full steam ahead.