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Daniel Chaplin finishes strong at the OCNJ Half Marathon
Daniel finishes strong at the 2018 OCNJ Half Marathon (NJ)

Former Runner’s World editor Mark Will-Weber once noted, “Running is real and relatively simple… but it ain’t easy.” Which makes it the perfect pastime for RaceRaves member (i.e. “Raving Lunatic”) Daniel Chaplin.

As one of the more than 200,000 people with Down syndrome in the U.S., Daniel thrives on defying expectations and overcoming challenges. From his first 5K in 2012 to his first marathon this past December, the 32-year-old clerical assistant from Homewood, Alabama has crossed more than 50 finish lines despite battling the physical and cognitive complications resulting from his condition. And nowhere is his resolve more evident than in his ongoing effort to become the first individual with Down syndrome to run a half marathon in all 50 states.

Fresh off his 46th half marathon in his 42nd state (Rhode Island), we caught up with Daniel to discuss his journey so far, his ambitions as a runner, and his tireless evangelism on behalf of the Down syndrome community. Daniel’s story opened our eyes to the power and potential of neurodivergent individuals and of the sport we all love, reminding us that while we may not always embrace the daily grind of running, our ability to get out and run is something we should never take for granted.

RR: Naturally we want to start at the beginning—what motivated you to start running, and then to start running half marathons?

DC: I first got interested in running in 2012 when I took a health class at Samford [University, in Birmingham, AL], where the final exam was to complete a 5K, which was really hard for me since I have Down syndrome.

After that, I did many more 5Ks, one 10K, and one 5 miler. Then after that I heard from several friends of mine about the Talladega Half Marathon. That was my very first half marathon, and afterward I ended up sleeping for more than 18 hours since I had never done that long of a distance before. Then I read about a great club called the 50 States Half Marathon Club, which I joined and started my journey to try and complete a half marathon in all 50 states. My hope is to become the first person with Down syndrome to complete a half marathon in all 50 states.

RR: The physical, mental and emotional benefits of running are well documented but differ for every individual. How has running changed you as a person?

DC: Running has helped me become more fit, and has inspired me to achieve new goals while running.

All of this training and running has changed me in a significant way. There is something I have never shared with anyone that is very significant. That is, just standing at the start line of one of my half marathons, standing at the start line of my first-ever marathon, standing at the start line of any of my races I do, I break down in tears, mostly having to fight the tears. I thought I would never be able to run one half marathon, marathon, or any of my other races I do, since I have had to overcome so many odds and obstacles associated with Down syndrome.

Daniel Chaplin gives the thumbs-up at the Lost Dutchman Half Marathon
Two thumbs up for the 2020 Lost Dutchman Half Marathon (AZ)

RR: Running a half marathon in all 50 states is an ambitious goal for any runner. What inspired you to pursue this goal?

DC: I’m running half marathons to raise awareness for Down syndrome.

RR: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your 50 States journey so far?

DC: Having the support of my friends and my family, and crossing the finish line at my races.

RR: Among your 46 half marathons to date, is there one particular state or one particular race day memory that stands out for you?

DC: The two races that really stand out for me are the Kooky Spooky Half Marathon and the Talladega Half. The Kooky Spooky Half, that really had a impact on me—a whole group of people came out to join me, to encourage me to cross the finish line, and without them I would never have been able to finish. The Talladega Half was my very first half marathon, which took me more than four hours to finish. Just crossing the finish line at the Talladega Half was very emotional for me, since I never thought I would be able to run at all.

RR: Not only are you running a half marathon in every state, but you recently conquered your first marathon at the Rocket City Marathon in your home state of Alabama. What was that experience like, and was it what you expected?

DC: When I was waiting at the start line of the Rocket City Marathon, I got emotional since I never thought I would ever be doing a marathon, given everything I have been through for the first 31 years of my life. So I decided to run the Rocket City Marathon to show all of the obstacles I have had to overcome in my life to get to this point. I went from only being able to run to the field goal post back when I was in middle school—and I’m still only able to run 25 feet before having to walk—to finally completing 26.2 miles. At the end of the race, I was for the first time in my life able to say the words, “I am a marathoner.”

“People with Down syndrome can really make a big impact on the world.”

Daniel Chaplin with Daniel's Dynamos at the Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon
Celebrating with Daniel’s Dynamos at the 2022 Mercedes-Benz Half (AL)

RR: Like many runners you’re a high-achieving, goal-oriented individual. What are a couple of your big running goals for the future? I see you have the 2023 NYC Marathon and the 2024 Boston Marathon listed as Future Races on your RaceRaves profile page.

DC: I would like to complete the six major marathons [Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City & Tokyo], an IRONMAN event, and more than 100 half marathons.

RR: You began your racing career with a 5K and gradually progressed all the way to the marathon distance. What advice would you give to someone who is intrigued by the idea of running, say, a marathon or half marathon but doesn’t know if they can do it?

DC: To realize that you have a talent, and in order to reach your fullest potential, to try new things and not be afraid to do so.

RR: Aside from running, what activities do you like to do in your spare time?

DC: I like swimming, ballroom dancing, bowling, playing basketball, and horseback riding.

Daniel Chaplin's 50 States Map on RaceRaves
Daniel’s 50 States Map on RaceRaves (orange: half marathon, green: full & half marathon)

RR: Clearly your advocacy and accomplishments go a long way toward changing people’s perceptions of what it means to live with Down syndrome. What do you say to help educate others—runners and non-runners alike—who may not understand Down syndrome or who themselves may not know someone with Down syndrome?

DC: That many individuals with Down syndrome have different challenges they have faced in their life. People with Down syndrome can really make a big impact on the world. By sharing their own stories, they really make the world a better place and show that individuals with Down syndrome really are “More Alike Than Different.”

👉 Follow Daniel on RaceRaves to stay updated on all his racing adventures, including his quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states and his quest to run all six Abbott World Marathon Majors!

👉 For more information on Down syndrome and athletic opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, please visit the Special Olympics website.

Looking for more running events? Search for races by state/city or month, and try our handy Find a Race tool to search for events by name, date range, distance, location, terrain & more. Then sign up for a free account to build your wish list and start coloring in your 50 States Map!

Author: Mike Sohaskey

Mike Sohaskey, co-founder of RaceRaves

Mike Sohaskey is the co-founder of RaceRaves, the premier online reviews community for runners to share their race experiences and find their next challenge. Mike honed his creative and critical thinking skills as a research scientist, earning a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford. He’s also completed over 100 races — including 50+ marathons and ultras — in locations ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.

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And for more helpful articles, check out our blog!

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3 thoughts on “Lunatic Spotlight: More Alike Than Different

    1. Jennifer’s response is spot-on and we couldn’t have said it better. RaceRaves members are affectionately termed “Raving Lunatics,” and not just a select few of our members but ALL our members. What’s more, our “Lunatic Spotlight” series is an ongoing feature on our blog in which we profile members whose stories we feel may be of particular interest to the larger community—you can see previous conversations by clicking on the link at the top of this article. “Lunatic” is a term that communicates our shared passion for running and all its benefits, and Daniel—with his ambition to run a half marathon in all 50 states and all six World Marathon Majors—embodies that passion as much as anyone we’ve ever met. He is a valued member of our community who appreciates the title of “Lunatic” and is, as Jennifer noted, a positive influence on everyone who knows him. And as he himself emphasizes in our conversation, he is much More Alike Than Different from his fellow Lunatics. We could not be more proud to have him as a member, and we recommend everyone follow his running journey to cheer him on and get to know him as an individual. Thanks for reading!

  1. Daniel is a Lunatic, Fanatic, now a Maniac… these are all running terms, terms that Daniel is proud to be called! I have accompanied him on several races. It is such a wonderful experience! And he uplifts all those around!

    Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac Ambassador for AL, MS and LA

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