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Forsyth Co. man who lost part of leg in crash becomes peg-legged party pirate

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Captain Jim gives a performance for children. (All photos by Lauren Carroll/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — With a clunk-clunk of his wooden peg leg and a parrot perched on his shoulder, Jim Light lets loose an “Ayyyy, matey” as he makes a dove appear — seemingly — out of thin air, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

A good magician never reveals his secrets, but one of Light’s is clear: Perseverance.

After a motorcycle accident claimed the lower portion of his right leg, Light adopted the persona of Captain Jim, becoming a pirate magician and a hidden gem — or, in his case, the entire pirate treasure chest — of a party performer.

All those who have seen him perform clamor to get him for their next event. For those who don’t know about him, they’re missing out, said Debbie Shively Wilborn of Summerfield.

“More people are finding out about him. God knows I tell enough people,” Wilborn said. “He’s absolutely amazing at what he does, and his story alone is enough to captivate an audience.”

After his debilitating accident in June 2000, Light shut down his construction company because of the physical demands and to entertain new career options.

“I decided I was going to become a magical, motivational peg-legged pirate,” Light, 49, said. “My wife thought I must have had a concussion, too.”

During his year of recovery, Light began buying props from a local magic shop and teaching himself illusions from books and online videos.

He had loved magic and performing ever since he received his first magic kit at age 7. But even as he learned new tricks, he knew he had to pursue more practical career options to support his family. So at age 35, he went back to school to become a counselor and took night classes in photography.

Light began performing magic on weekends at birthday parties of his friends’ children as a hobby.

But as word spread of Light’s talent, more people got on board with Captain Jim. Magic turned into his full-time job.

“What’s really amazing is, I feel like I’m doing all three things that I set out to do,” he said. “I hope I’ve inspired and motivated you like a counselor, helped you capture memories like a photographer and entertained you like an entertainer.”

Light had a wooden peg leg custom-made for his shows and began performing magic shows for church groups and at schools, corporation parties and receptions. He has also performed illusions while being accompanied by the Winston-Salem Symphony.

Some of Light’s more popular tricks include floating antique tables and illusions with doves, but the entire show is captivating, Wilborn said.

Her daughter, Ashleigh, asks for Captain Jim to perform at her birthday party every year. Light will make his fourth such appearance when she turns 11 this month.

“He’s excellent with children and his magic is great,” Wilborn said. “I’m always very impressed by him.”

She said Light’s show is spellbinding for audiences of all ages.

“When most people think of magic, they think of a small children’s show,” Light said. “We’ve got great children’s programs, but really the older you get, the more you get out of it.”

Light weaves motivational lessons into his shows in the hopes of sharing what he has learned from his accident.

He lives his life by the poem “The Winner,” author unknown, which he first read 42 years ago and has hanging in his house.

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man,” the poem reads. “But sooner or later the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.”

While few would think of a motorcycle accident and an amputation as a good thing, he said it gave him the courage to pursue his passion and the opportunity to test his resilience.

“The accident unlocked a hidden door in my mind, and I realized I couldn’t give up,” he said. “I envisioned using my experiences to help others navigate through troubled waters. I think I was meant to do this.”