During his first quarter at UCI, C.J. Howard ’06, a runner on the cross country team, was bothered by a persistent pain in his left heel. On Dec. 23, 2002, he learned the pain was caused by bone cancer. The next day, Christmas Eve, his father had more devastating news: Howard would not only have to endure nearly a year of chemotherapy, his leg would be amputated below the knee. Howard’s response showed he had the resilient spirit of a champion.

“I wonder,” he asked his dad, “what the world record is in the 5K for leg amputees?”

Howard doesn’t have to wonder anymore. He now holds 10K and half-marathon records for below-the-knee amputees, and he’s just nanoseconds behind the unofficial 5k record.

His cancer is in remission, and he’s still running strong – logging 60 miles a week.

“I don’t take any day for granted,” he says.

Howard got his bachelor’s degrees in sociology and political science, and he hopes to pursue a doctorate and career in international relations. A resident of La Crescenta, he leaves for San Jose in June to join the Teach for America corps, a two-year program in which college graduates teach students in low-income communities.

In January, he completed his first full marathon in Orange County, and although he didn’t run as fast as he wanted, he plans to try again.

“Just finishing the marathon was a gigantic sense of accomplishment,” he says.

To those who see him run on his metal prosthesis, he’s a winner no matter what his time.

“My prosthetic is a badge of honor; I don’t try to hide it,” Howard says. “It’s my way of saying, ‘Look. I’m wearing a prosthetic device, and I’m not letting it stop me.’”