Jim's father, James, participated in cross country skiing and in nordic combined at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck.
Olympian Jim himself began as a bobsledder and then switched to skeleton because it was less expensive and more exciting. After winning the world championship in 1999, Shea qualified for the United States Olympic team in 2002. This made his family proud, but, tragically, 91-year-old Jack was killed by a drunken driver only 17 days before the Opening Ceremony. In Salt Lake City, Jim competed with a photograph of his grandfather inside his helmet. Shea recorded the fastest time of the first run and then held on in the second run to defeat Martin Rettl for the gold medal by five hundredths of a second.