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Register names Outdoor Sportsperson of the Year

December 31, 2012

The Orange County Register / David Whiting

'Blade runner' gains traction in her second chance at life

September 2, 2012

The Orange County Register / Teryl Zarnow

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The Orange County Register / Fred Swegles

Long Beach Company Leads the Way in Providing First-of-its-kind GeniumĀ® Bionic Prosthetic System to those with Lower Limb Loss

June 26, 2012

Human Designs Press Release

Human Designs Helps Local Woman Receive a Life Changing Gift - Watch us on Telemundo!

April 13, 2012

Human Designs Press Release

Human Designs Patient Video Profile

November 23, 2010

Human Designs YouTube Channel

Loss of limbs, motion, doesn't kill dreams

Nov. 11, 2010

The Orange County Register / David Whiting

Human Designs Prosthetics and Orthotics Awarded ABC Accreditation

May 13, 2010

Human Designs Press Release

Human Designs Volunteers at the Tour de Cure in Long Beach

May 4, 2010

Human Designs Press Release

Paralyzed woman finishes Boston Marathon

April 19, 2010

The Orange County Register / David Whiting

Ex-firefighter longs to help others again

November 28, 2009

Sun Post News / Debbie L. Sklar

One leg or none, yet plenty to stand on

October 30, 2009

The Orange County Register / David Whiting

A Day in the Life of... Beth Sanden

October 16, 2009

Coast Magazine / Jessica Forsyth

Orange Slices: A New Leg

September 05, 2009

The Orange County Register / Michael Goulding

Winning Attitude: Obstacles aren't barriers for Long Beach's Most Inspiring Students

May 28, 2009

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Kevin Butler

Katrina Victim Gets a New Leg

November 24, 2005

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Karen Robes

Leg Loss Doesn't Stop Bodyboarder

January 15, 2001

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Paul Young

Jami Goldman's Run for the Gold -- on Prosthetic Legs

November 17, 1999

Business Week / John M. Williams

 

More News

Ex-firefighter longs to help others again

November, 28, 2009

Sun Post News / Debbie L. Sklar

One leg or none, yet plenty to stand on

October 30, 2009

The Orange County Register / David Whiting

A Day in the Life of... Beth Sanden

October 16, 2009

Coast Magazine / Jessica Forsyth

Orange Slices: A New Leg

September 05, 2009

The Orange County Register / Michael Goulding

Winning Attitude: Obstacles aren't barriers for Long Beach's Most Inspiring Students

May 28, 2009

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Kevin Butler

Katrina Victim Gets a New Leg

November 24, 2005

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Karen Robes

Leg Loss Doesn't Stop Bodyboarder

January 15, 2001

Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) / Paul Young

Jami Goldman's Run for the Gold -- on Prosthetic Legs

November 17, 1999

Business Week / John M. Williams

 

LEG LOSS DOESN'T STOP BODYBOARDER

 

January 15, 2001 (Long Beach, CA) - John Araiza has lived two lives. The first was from 7 to 18; those were the days of the angry, introverted John, the alienated John who was picked on for having only one leg. The second and more recent involves the mellow, laid-back John, a John who has transcended his past and morphed into someone new.

There was a time when he was so self-conscious about missing a leg that he wouldn't wear shorts to the beach. But this weekend, John decided to prove himself to the world by stepping into the realm of professional bodyboarding at the Mike Stewart Pipe Masters surf contest in Hawaii.

John has entered plenty of contests, but this is one where he has pitted himself against some of the best wave-riders in the world and one of the most treacherous waves ever ridden.

But forget about that for a moment. To understand it all, one must understand where John has been and how much he has overcome. Although his past is riddled with loneliness and self-doubt, this story is not a tragedy. It's rather about an intense love affair between a young man and his sea.

Of course, as with any good love story, it involves a girl. But she's just a small part of the tale this time. She simply led him to the head of the trail that brought him where he is today. Besides, his heart was too entwined with something else: the feeling of finally being free.

Four years later, John is doing even better. And when he returns from his contest later this week, he will experience a new kind of freedom. This time, it involves a Long Beach company -- Human Designs Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory -- that's building him a $20,000 leg. It will allow him to run for the first time in 15 years, since he lost his leg in a tractor accident at age 7.

 

No hint of disability

If you were to see him in the water, you'd never know it. On one recent day, he prepares for a wave-riding session at the Huntington Beach Pier. The waves are small and not too good, but John doesn't care. He enjoys just being in the water.

Removing his prosthesis and propping it up in the sand, he bares his tattooed back and leg, wraps a towel around his body, then slides into his wet suit. He's doing it as quickly as he can because it's cold and drizzling outside.

John then slips a yellow rubber fin onto his right foot and hops to the water, where he turns around and hops backward. He slips into the ocean and suddenly becomes like a dolphin in the surf.

By kicking with his leg and paddling with both arms he gets into the waves with ease. He does 360-degree turns. He launches into the air, maneuvering his board as if he were flying. He turns heads and blows minds. These are the moments when he is most at peace, when he is most free.

"I'm the same as everyone else in the water," John said. "They don't see me with one leg. They see me as a normal person. The bonus is when they see me get out of the water."

In the days of old, people would have expected a different John Araiza, who for most of his life, closed himself to the world.

He grew up in Primo Tapia, a sleepy town south of Rosarito, Mexico, then moved to Fontana about two years ago, where he lives with his aunt. He doesn't see his family as much as he'd like to, but his mother and father recently visited the United States.

Dolores Araiza, 40, stays at home to care for John's two brothers and sister. Jose Araiza, 43, works in construction.

 

Torrid temper

John's mother often worried about his temper.

"He fought all the time, all the time because he felt different than the other kids," she said. "He had a lot of dreams, but he was afraid to be with other people."

The John these people knew was violent and mean. He was an introvert who looked for people to fight. And if someone looked at him the wrong way, they'd almost surely get punched in the nose. He had become so tough that he could win a fight almost every time.

"People remember me as a troublemaker," John said. "I looked for an excuse to get into a fight. I was trying to prove to other people that I was just as good as they are."

It's not the way he wanted to do it, but it was better than being constantly teased. On the inside, Araiza was in a world of pain and torment. And the only time he could get away from it was in the quiet of his home, perched near some sand dunes by the beach.

Here, Araiza drew. He drew sketches, taking himself into another world and forgetting about everything else. When he came back, however, he still hurt.

"I was angry at myself," Araiza said. "It was my own selfconsciousness that kept me from (doing things)."

 

A sea change

He wondered if that's how his future would be, if he'd continue to close himself to the world, to harden himself to other people. Then came this girl.

John gets bashful when it comes to talking about Katalla, the beautiful, tall blond with brown eyes. But it's safe to say John Araiza, the tough guy from Primo Tapia, fell in love.

Dolores knew it was so when John began slicking his hair nicely into place and began dressing very cleanly. When John got a date with Katalla, they went to the beach.

She was dressed in shorts and a tube top and was ready to go swimming. John, on the other hand, was wearing pants. Katalla wasn't satisfied with his attire and asked, "Why the pants?" The only good answer John could come up with was the truth; Katalla had no idea John only had one leg.

But instead of getting dumped, as he would have expected, John was pleasantly surprised. The girl told him that if he returned to the beach wearing shorts, she'd give him a kiss.

John did, and he says their second date went extremely well.

"I realized (wearing shorts) wasn't so bad," he said. "And that's when I realized what I'd been missing ... After I started surfing, instead of using my leg to beat people up, I'd use my leg to make people laugh."

 

John reborn

His mother quietly watched as she saw a different John being born.

"He changed a lot," she said. "He now likes the hard things, things that (seem) impossible for him. But nothing is impossible. He does things very easy now."

Soon, Araiza was entering bodyboarding contests with the Bodyboarding International Association all over Mexico. The first one he entered, he won, taking him to the World Surfing Games in Brazil in 1998.

Soon after, he entered his first contest in the United States at Zuma Beach in Malibu and made it to the finals.

"He will definitely get up there to be ranked in the top 10 or 20 (in the world)," said Long Beach resident Art Chavarria, who met John in Mexico three years ago. "When you see him surf, you're pretty much inspired because he's pulling off tricks that you can't do, and he only has one leg."

There is great dedication in this. John doesn't have a car and he lives an hour's drive from the closest beach. But if anybody knows this it's John: There are different ways to get around things.

His way is to wake up at 3 just about every morning. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he rides the Metro Rail and buses, making a six hour trek to San Clemente, where he interns at Bodyboarding Magazine. Other days, he takes the train to Cal State San Bernardino where he studies graphic design. In his off time, John rides waves and takes an occasional trip to Mexico.

This is where, two months ago, he met Jennifer Miyasaki, who works for Human Designs in Long Beach. Araiza had just finished a contest, and doesn't know if their meeting was scheduled by God or fate, but it doesn't much matter anymore. He's getting a new leg.

Miyasaki said, "I watched him coming out of the water, hopping (on one leg) from rock to rock ... It's hard even on two legs to carry a bodyboard and then hop. I was, like, `You've got to be kidding me.' "

 

A perfect match

But Araiza is exactly the type of person her company was looking for. They wanted to sponsor a disabled athlete who would be willing to enter running events.

Ever since he lost his leg, John hasn't been able to run or ride a bicycle well. Both activities went something like this: Swing. Clunk. Swing. Clunk.

His old leg was made from wood and was very difficult to keep on. The new one will allow him to go farther than he's ever been.

Developed by Laguna Hills-based Flexfoot, the prosthetic looks something like a "Terminator leg," John said. It has a hydraulic knee, which will allow him to run or walk at different speeds. The leg gradually curves into what looks like a modified ski, forming an L shape.

As John puts pressure on the prosthetic when walking or running, it will absorb energy. When he swings his leg, the energy will be released, helping the prosthetic to swing forward.

John, who wants to enter a triathlon or marathon, can only imagine what it's like to run. He pictures himself running down a street and everything around him getting blurry as he picks up speed.

"A big part of my life was gone, and now I'm going to get it back," he said. "I just want to run ... just run and not stop."