As C.J. Howard crossed the finish chute of the Silver Strand Half-Marathon on Nov. 14, 2004, he let out a victorious scream.
He had just finished running 13.1 miles in a national record time of only one hour, 23.59 seconds, sweeping away the competition and the old record by nearly six minutes.
By three miles into the marathon, Howard had broken away from the pack of runners.
By mile six, Howard had a big enough lead to know that he was going to win the race.
For the last seven miles, Howard kept thinking back on his training and preparation in an effort to keep his focus on the race.
Howard is a third-year sociology major at UCI and has been a competitive runner since his days in high school.
As a freshman at UCI, he was on the varsity cross country team until he was diagnosed with osteo-sarcoma (bone cancer) in his left heel.
Howard’s left foot was amputated; everything six inches below his knee was surgically removed.
However, this did not stop Howard’s competitive spirit because he was still determined to ‘be the best amputee athlete that there was.’
‘I felt an urgency to start accomplishing my goals especially with the uncertainty of life and death,’ Howard said.
His surgery to remove his foot was on April 28, 2003. Remarkably, Howard started running again in November of the same year.
Howard now holds three national records.
He won a 5k in Agoura Hills on Nov. 2, 2004, a 10k in El Segundo on Aug. 28, 2004 and his latest competition, the Silver Strand Half-Marathon, which also served as the National Leg-Amputee Championships.
Any person with a physical disability was able to compete at the Silver Strand Half-Marathon, but only a select number of amputees in the world are actually able to complete the 13.1 miles.
‘I was trying to beat Paul Martin, who is a famous amputee who has been successful and has competed in numerous Iron Man competitions,’ Howard said. ‘I knew that I had to beat him, and I did by [nearly] six minutes.’
Howard’s confidence is a result of preparation, determination and a fierce resolve.
He did six months of intense preparation for the Silver Strand Half-Marathon, and also had a coach who supported and motivated him for success.
Unfortunately, there is no world championship marathon for amputees.
Nevertheless, the marathon could technically be considered a world championship because there were runners from all around the world, including Mexico and Britain.
For the future, Howard will continue to keep setting and breaking records in an effort to raise the bar for other amputees.
‘I want to raise awareness for the disabled community to let them know that there’s life beyond amputation, which will also increase my competition,’ Howard said. ‘It seems that so many people are stuck on the mindset that if you lose a foot you’ll be happy with being able to walk. The possibilities for people with prosthetics are endless.’
Howard activley competes in races specifically geared toward amputees.
He is training for his next goal to break the 1,500 meter record for an aputee by this May.