Jeffrey LeMair, South Dakota boxing legend now running ultra marathons


The steady beat of a footstep, after footstep. It’s a calming and comfortable sound to Jeffrey LeMair.
He runs for fun. Jeffrey has more than 30 marathons under his belt, including the Boston Marathon.

“When I’m having a bad day, some people go out and say ahh I resolve all my problems by running, it’s not that easy, but what happens is you get so relaxed that you’re in a non-emotional state to be able to deal with your issues,” said LeMair.

And for Jeffrey, a regular 26 mile marathon isn’t enough. He now runs Ultra Marathons of 50 to a hundred miles

“It’s more of an adventure for me, so I want to extend the adventure, I also want the peace and fulfillment,” said LeMair.

During his 66 years, Jeffrey has run into his share of obstacles. The biggest came in the most unlikely place. The White House. You see Jeffrey wasn’t always a runner. Pound for pound Jeffrey LeMair is probably the best boxer to come out of the state of South Dakota.

Jeffrey won amateur championships, traveled the world and met stars. His brother Greg was his trainer and coach.

“Everybody that knows Jeffrey knows he was a pretty good boxer, but I don’t think people fully understand how good he was, said his brother Greg LeMair.

With Greg in his corner, Jeffrey fought, virtually to a draw, three boxers who went on to become world champions. One of them was Sugar Ray Leonard, who Jeffrey fought in Denver.

“It was a really really beautiful boxing match, really close but in the third round, Jeffrey decked Sugar Ray Leonard, the first time and one of the few times Sugar Ray Leonard was ever off his feet,” said Greg LeMair.

Leonard went on to become an Olympic gold medalist in 1976. At the next Olympics, it was to be Jeffrey’s turn. And that’s how he ended up at the White House on March 21st, 1980. On that rainy day, LeMair, and other top athletes in their sports were called to a meeting with President Jimmy Carter. One of LeMair’s fellow boxers spoke up but the president had made up his mind.

“He said young man, we’re not going, and that was it,” said LeMair.

The U.S. would Boycott the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow over the invasion of Afghanistan.

“Gut-wrenching is pretty descriptive, I only remember I was never so deflated in my life. When I drove home it was not only pouring rain it was just an awful storm inside of my head and my body.

“I was packing some things some really valuable mementos, world champion autograph, hand wraps and a lot of things about the boycott, correspondence from the White House. I remember taking a box as big as I could lift, and throwing it in a dumpster, it was hard,” said LeMair

LeMair eventually left competition boxing behind, he devoted 41 years to helping troubled kids. Working as a counselor and caseworker at the Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center. In all those years, he never taught kids how to box, but the lessons he was taught as a boxer, and his own troubled youth, served him well.

“That’s why we had a punching bag at JDC, people say why do you have a punching bag, just teaching kids how to box. I said no I didn’t teach them to box. We let them go out there and have at it, and expend any negative emotions they can, then you talk, then you counsel,” said Lemair.

Boxing will always be a part of his life, the muscles may be a little stiffer, the movement a fraction slower, but you still would not want to be on the receiving end of one of these punches. At times in his life, Jeffrey has been a contender, a challenger and in the eyes of those who know him best, a champion

“As good a fighter as good a boxer as Jeffrey was, he’s as good a human being,” said Greg LeMair.

In more than 200 fights Jeffrey says he was never knocked out and he credits his brother Greg for much of his success. Lemair, who turns 67 in February is preparing for another 100 mile race in 2021.

By the way, his grandkids call him “Grandpa Boom Boom.”

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