Daniel Chaplin started running in 2012 when he was taking a health studies class at Samford University in Alabama. The final exam was to run a 5K.
“It took me over an hour to finish,” Chaplin said. And “I was dead last,” he said, smiling.
But Chaplin said it made him interested in the sport. He started to run more and more, and soon signed up for another 5K race. He then ran another. Then another. Then he built up to finishing a 10K.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that,” said Chaplin, a resident of Homewood, Alabama.
For Chaplin, this was no small feat. As a runner with Down syndrome, he said he has low muscle tone, which makes it hard to race and train.
But Chaplin has big goals. He hopes to become the first person with Down syndrome to finish 50 half-marathons in 50 states. At the Baltimore Running Festival this weekend, he’ll race his 40th half-marathon toward the goal, which he began around nine years ago after he joined the 50 States Half Marathon Club.
His first half-marathon was in 2013, he said, when he signed up for a race in Talladega, Alabama. Many people, including some within his support system, told him he couldn’t do it. But he was determined.
He worked hard to train, doing long runs on weekends, usually seven to eight miles or more, and short runs during the week. Chaplin finished the race in over four hours, he said.
How did he feel afterward? “Relief,” he said. He was so exhausted that he slept for over 18 hours afterward.
Running has helped him discover that “I can do more things, be more active,” he said. “My whole world was darkness before I found running.”
In school he found it hard to get people to believe in him. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he was integrated into general education classes, rather than taking separate classes for students with disabilities. And that’s because his parents fought for him. People were doubtful that he’d be able to pass any section of the high school graduation exam, he said, but he passed all of them.
Chaplin said he runs not only for himself, but to show others with Down syndrome that they should believe in themselves, too.
“I really wanted to show the Down syndrome community that anyone who has DS can reach their dreams and realize their full potential,” he said.
At the Baltimore Running Festival, he is leading a social team called 13.1 for T-21, which is another term for Down syndrome, to raise awareness. T-21 stands for Trisomy 21. Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.
“We have three team members,” he said, two of whom are from the 50 states club. “We need more.”
This month is particularly special because October is Down syndrome awareness month, he said.
After Baltimore, he will have 10 races left in 10 states, including Alaska. He’s trained so much that after finishing one half marathon, “I’m ready to go again,” he said. In fact, he’s signed up to run his first full marathon in December.
Still, although he’s mastered the run, he gets emotional every time he finishes a race.
“I just never thought I’d be able to do a half-marathon, ever,” he said.