James, whose personal best for a mile is a world class 3.58 minutes, was thinking about going to the Commonwealth Games as an 18-year-old, but at 20 he's lacing up his rugby boots and hoping to one day represent his country in its national sport.
The Cardiff Blues wing was unable to personally collect his award, because he is on tour Down Under, but he admits he's never looked back since taking the decision to hang up his running spikes.
"I was running before work and then running home from work and it just got too much for me, but now I'm a professional player and there's no comparison," said James.
"When I travelled with athletics we would stay in hostels and train whenever we could. This tour to Australia in particular has shown me I want to be a professional sportsman and rugby is definitely where I want to set my targets and goals.
"Over here we are staying in the Brisbane Hilton, we are training in the best gyms and our food and welfare is looked after by professionals. The facilities on offer are a far cry from what athletes have available to them."
James's trainer in athletics was another Welsh wing famous for his pace, JJ Williams, but he says the 1970s sporting icon is yet to advise him on his rugby career.
"JJ always told me I was too small for rugby and at 18-years-old when I was running my best times I was," added James.
"But I'm a bit bigger now and I run with more power. JJ did a lot for me, my training partner was his son Rhys who is now a pro-athlete, and I'll definitely be in touch with him for some rugby advice when I get back home.
"I wouldn't say I'm the fastest in the squad as everyone is up there. I'm probably faster over short distances than I used to be, but I'd take a bit longer to do the mile.
"We test ourselves over 40 metres most of the time as that's the yardstick for rugby and there are a few players with gas on this tour.
"Winning the award shows me I'm going in the right direction. I won player of the month at the beginning of the season, it gives me the encouragement to keep going and I definitely want to stay in this elite environment if I can.
"We've got a great squad out here, with some more good youngsters coming through so I think the future's looking rosy for the game and I know I made the right decision."
Welsh Rugby Union Chief Executive Roger Lewis was the first to congratulate James on his award in Brisbane harbour today (Friday).
"Tom's got a big future ahead of him, he's a top athlete and he seems to be relishing the international environment," said Lewis. "Players like Tom are the future of our game and we need to ensure we commit all possible resources to nurturing his talents and the talents of those like him."
TOM JAMES PROFILE
James burst onto the Premiership scene this season after moving from his home town club of Merthyr to Cardiff. Athletics' loss proved to be rugby's gain as the former Welsh junior 1500 metre international became an instant hit in blue and black. He was voted Player of the Tournament as Cardiff won the Selkirk Centenary Sevens before the season started and he grabbed 11 tries in the Premiership - earning an early season Player of the Month award. More tries would surely have flowed had he not been snapped up by Cardiff Blues to play in both the Heineken Cup and the Magners League. He played for the Wales Under 20 side and Wales Sevens before capping an incredible year with a late call-up to the Wales squad currently preparing for the second Test in Australia.