Christmas was a tough day for Ric Stranges.
That was the day the New Albany High School principal learned he had prostate cancer.
"I had two choices," Stranges said. "I could either curl up in bed and be distraught, or I could ask the doctor what we're going to do about it and face it head on."
Months later, Stranges is fighting the disease with all his might and he is winning.
"He's not missed a day and not missed a beat," said Rex Reeder, assistant high school principal. "He's handled himself well and led us through one of the best school years ever.
"He's highly respected and you can tell how much he cares about this place."
Stranges said he didn't miss a day of school even though he had two surgeries and 45 minutes of radiation treatments daily for 48 days in February and March.
It wasn't that he felt he had to be at New Albany High School, he said. He wanted to be there.
"So many people supported me," Stranges said. "I didn't have to do it alone."
When Stranges told his family about the cancer, he had planned to keep it from colleagues and students at the high school.
But his father, psychologist Richard Stranges of Columbus, asked his son why he wouldn't allow his friends and those who care about him to give him strength and help him fight the disease.
Stranges said he listened to his father and told staff members about his cancer.
He ended up telling high school students during a more trying time, after he canceled the winter formal.
He said he canceled the dance because of students' behavior at the homecoming dance in the fall.
"(The dancing) was more sexually oriented than I would like," Stranges said. "It was more than I was going to tolerate and until I was assured it wouldn't happen again, I told them they wouldn't have another dance."
After winter break, Stranges was standing in front of some angry students who wanted to know if they would have a prom when he told them they would face many challenges in their lives.
That was when he revealed his challenge, he said, and the students left the meeting agreeing to change their ways.
But many of the students took away something else: a little more respect for their principal.
"Mr. Stranges is a model of positivity," said senior Juli Sasaki. "Despite his illness, he manages to remain cheerful and energetic. His positive outlook definitely has inspired me and other students to work our hardest for excellence in the school district."
Senior Joydeep Ganguly said, "I'm amazed at how involved in the school community he is. It's absolutely ridiculous. He's at cross country meets in the rain and cold. He's really in touch with the school and we're lucky to have him."
Stranges said he is fortunate to know some of the students personally, whether it's watching them cross the finish line or playing a cello solo.
"It's difficult with 1,300 kids to get to know them in a personal way," he said.
But, somehow, he does.
"He greets everybody by name," said senior Arman Odabas. "Mr. Stranges is really, really supportive and will hear us out when we have ideas. He's very cooperative with us and gets all enthused about our efforts. ... He really cares about what students are doing."
Outside of school, Stranges, 54, continues to run, another of his passions, and he finished the Capital City Half Marathon earlier this month.
"If there is a blessing in this, it's that it happened to me at my age and my fitness level so I would be able to battle it and win," he said.
Stranges credits the faculty, students and the community for all they did to help him along the way.
District parent Lance White, who is a cancer survivor, gave Stranges a white shirt, which he wore to cancer treatments. Stranges said he wore the shirt during the half marathon.
Other parents gave him keepsakes to put in his pocket while he ran.
"That's the kind of community we have," Stranges said.
High school staff members supported Stranges by dropping off food at his office, giving him daily encouragement and by surprising him with a $2,310 donation to the American Cancer Society during the Relay For Life fundraiser.
"We have been raising money at New Albany High School for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life for at least a decade," said English teacher Jacqui Loughry. "The fundraising effort took on special meaning this year though, since Ric was going through his treatment while still leading our staff and training for the half marathon. We were able to raise $1,310 (a half marathon is 13.1 miles), and an anonymous donor matched $1,000, so our grand total was $2,310.
"In addition to contributing to the American Cancer Society, the staff and students wore blue shirts (blue is the symbolic color for prostate cancer) the day before his half marathon in support of his completing his training."
The students' contribution to his healing was personal, Stranges said.
The senior class always raises money for a project it can leave behind as a legacy. This year's class members asked if they could donate their money to help pay Stranges' medical bills.
"That's what sets them apart," Stranges said.
He said he declined the money and asked that they consider another project. But, he said, his gratitude remains.
"There's a lot of support here and a pretty positive attitude," Stranges said.
"Working with Ric is wonderful," Loughry said. "He creates an open and supportive atmosphere here, and he fosters an environment where a passion for scholarship and a true love for our students is the norm.
"I often tell people that I work in a utopia, and while no place is perfect, New Albany High School is certainly approaching that Platonic ideal."
Stranges can easily talk about all of the high school's accomplishments over the past year. But he doesn't have to say a word to show how proud and happy he is to be working.
"Being out and about, on a personal level, I like seeing the students acting and the athletes, and the academics and the arts and the drama," he said. "While I'm out here, I can connect to the students. I love being here and getting out to see what the students are doing, and they're doing great things."
Stranges was hired as high school dean of students in 1999 and served as vice principal under Scott Stewart for nine years.
He accepted the principal's position in 2010 when Stewart retired.
Stranges originally is from Bucyrus and spent some time in Nebraska before returning to Ohio and graduating from Northland High School.
He and his wife, Sharon, live in Bexley with their three sons: 18-year-old Richard III, 13-year-old Brody and 11-year-old Chad.