William A. Skinner, 75, a high school dropout who later became a world-renowned javelin thrower, died Monday at his home in Scott County.
Skinner, a native of Delaware and a Navy veteran, was working as a welder when he won the Middle Atlantic Amateur Athletic Union Championships just days after picking up a javelin for the first time when he was 22.
He had been lifting weights at a YMCA when another man challenged him to the javelin.
"He was very competitive," said Skinner's wife of 44 years, Nelda Skinner. "When that guy challenged him to the bet, he was out for blood."
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In the early days of his career, Nelda Skinner said, Skinner put roofing nails in the bottom of his shoes for traction.
"Before it was over, he was designing his own shoes" and having them made by a national brand, she said.
Skinner accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee and became a freshman in his late 20s.
He was a four-time All-American and a five-time national champion whose career-best throw was 291 feet, 9½ inches. He defeated an Olympic gold medalist from the Soviet Union in a showdown at Leningrad.
In 1970, he won NCAA, AAU and USTFF titles.
But in 1971, the same year he captained the men's track and field team at the Pan-American Games in Colombia, Skinner, 31, became a national news story: His refusal to shave his red handlebar mustache got him kicked off the track and field team at UT.
"He was a man of principle," Nelda Skinner said. "If he didn't think it was right, he didn't do it."
Despite being removed from the team, Skinner graduated with honors from UT, his wife said.
He went on to compete with the New York Athletic Club.
"He really was a natural athlete," said Nelda Skinner, who noted that her husband also played football with the Delaware Clippers and was an amateur boxer.
After injuries ended his javelin career soon after graduation, Skinner began working for John Deere Industrial Equipment. It was that job that brought him to Georgetown 36 years ago, Nelda Skinner said.
He retired from John Deere in 1994, and more than 30 years after he graduated from UT, the degree Skinner earned in industrial education finally got put to use. He took a job teaching welding to inmates at Blackburn Correctional Complex, where he worked until 2004, when health problems forced him to retire.
"It was the most satisfying job he ever had," Nelda Skinner said. "He used to get letters from people's mothers. ... He would try to get them jobs."
Skinner was diagnosed two months ago with pancreatic cancer, she said.
In addition to his wife, Skinner is survived by three daughters, Stacy, Brittain and Fallon Skinner. Visitation is 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Tucker-Yocum & Wilson Funeral Home in Georgetown. Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church in Georgetown, where Skinner was an elder.