Monday, May 20, 2013
Kitty O'Neill had a sense early on that her son was ready for bigger challenges, bigger opportunities, than those he was getting as a boy in the tiny town of Jefferson.
James Davis, right, who grew up in Jefferson, is seen with partner Jaymes Vaughan, competing in Spain in an episode of CBS' "The Amazing Race, which aired Dec. 2. The pair have made it to the season finale, which will air Sunday. They're in the running for a $1 million prize.
So O'Neill allowed her son -- James Davis -- to move to Las Vegas with a friend's family when he was just 16 years old. He had a band, he had stage presence, and he had confidence beyond his years.
"It was nerve-wracking for me, but he just needed something bigger than Maine," said O'Neill, who works as a speech pathologist in Bath schools. "He was just the type of kid who always knew what to do. He just got things. He probably could have lived on his own when he was 7."
Davis has continued looking for bigger challenges, bigger opportunities, and bigger stages. In Las Vegas he first became a model, then one of the famed Chippendales dancers, going shirtless to entertain women around the world.
Now his thirst for bigger stages and his strong sense of self-reliance have helped him reach the finals of the CBS globe-trotting reality show "The Amazing Race," which will air Sunday at 8 p.m.
He and his teammate on the show -- fellow Chippendales dancer Jaymes Vaughan -- will be seen vying with three other teams for the $1 million prize. Though he's spent much of his life in glitzy Las Vegas, Davis probably will stick close to his Maine roots if he and his teammate win all that loot Sunday night, his mother thinks.
"He's been pretty tight-lipped about it, but he's pretty sensible when it comes to money," O'Neill said. "I think he'd try to do something important with it, and certainly wouldn't squander it."
Davis, 27, has been seen on "The Amazing Race" this fall, traveling more than 25,000 miles through nine countries on three continents. At each destination, the teams are given challenges to accomplish, and those who don't do well in the challenges face elimination. The challenges Davis and his competitors were seen facing this fall included rappelling down 10 stories in Los Angeles, frying an egg on their heads in Indonesia and catching rats in Bangladesh. The season began with 11 teams competing against each other.
Davis' family members say they have no idea how he did on the show -- he's required to keep quiet about the results and CBS isn't letting him give interviews until Monday -- so watching him weekly this fall on TV has provided some nail-biting moments. In the first episode, Davis and his teammate finished second-to-last and had to run at top speed past another team to avoid being last.
In Bangladesh, Davis was seen sweating profusely as he agonized about his efforts to replicate some bamboo pieces for one challenge.
"He's always been very adept at handling himself, so it's not surprising to me that he got past (the challenges) and has made it this far," said his brother, John Davis, 29, of Bath. "He's always been athletic, and he's never had stage fright, even at the age when most kids do.
The "Amazing Race" episodes were filmed earlier this year, so O'Neill has seen her son since and knows he came through his world travel just fine. Still, she said watching the episodes in which he looks tired and dehydrated has been tough.
"He's a big guy and he's used to consuming a lot more calories than he probably did (while on the show), O'Neill said. "You can see the exhaustion."
Growing up in Jefferson, near Waldoboro, Davis went to Jefferson schools and then to Erskine Academy in China for some of his high school years. John Davis said he and his brother got into weight lifting in high school, a hobby Davis stuck with, as evidenced by the sculpted upper body he displays as a Chippendale.
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