alt text

Jim Bakhtiar was his team’s leading rusher in 1957.

Jamshid “Jim” Bakhtiar’s performance on the football field earned him All-America honors in 1957. What he’s done since makes him proudest.

In December, 50 years after the Football Writers Association of America first recognized him, it accorded him a new honor: the All-America Alumni Award. “One of the nicest things about it was it really wasn’t for my football,” Bakhtiar told the Martinsburg, W.Va., Journal. “It was what I did after football.”

Bakhtiar was born in Iran, but his family moved to the U.S. when he was 12 to give the children an American education. Jim took up football in high school, and “the Persian Prince” went on to become one of U.Va.’s brightest stars, setting an Atlantic Coast Conference career rushing record that stood for more than a decade.

Bakhtiar played one season in the Canadian Football League before returning to U.Va. for medical school. He served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, eventually choosing psychiatry as his specialty. In 1976, he fulfilled a lifelong dream by returning to Iran to take a post at the University of Isfahan.

That dream became a nightmare. The U.S.-backed shah was deposed in 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini swept into power; war with Iraq ensued. By 1981, Bakhtiar feared that his 14-year-old son would be drafted and made plans to leave. Authorities suspected Bakhtiar of being an American spy; they arrested and detained him for nearly a month before confiscating most of his assets. The Bakhtiar family escaped in June 1982, in a daring trek across the Turkish border.

Bakhtiar, who now lives and practices in West Virginia, has season tickets to U.Va. football games. His advice to today’s players? “There’s a whole life after football. If you get locked in and think it’s only football, I think you’re shortchanging yourself.”