Claude Younger says he is goal-oriented, which is like saying a marathon is a long race. That’s why most people never attempt one, and the Denham Springs resident laughed 10 years ago when a friend suggested he try.
But Younger, then 50, needed to do something to keep his diabetes under control. So, after training at progressively longer distances, he ran a marathon in San Francisco in 2008. He finished. More accurately, he only got started.
“I saw some guys with shirts on that had the outline of the United States and some states colored in,” Younger said. “I saw some others with lists of states and states checked off. I don’t know. It just sounded interesting.”
So, Younger decided he would run a marathon in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although a near-death experience forced him to alter his goal, (more about that later) he crossed the last finish line in his quest on Oct. 15 at the Green Mountain Half-Marathon in Vermont. Along the way, he fulfilled a pledge to his wife, Nina.
“I promised her before we got married that we’d travel,” he said. “The kids were out and doing great and had their own families and no boomerang kids, so we’ve been pretty blessed. This would be a pretty good way to travel.”
A health care management consultant, Younger is on the road Mondays through Thursdays, which provided flexibility to go to marathons without using vacation time. As it happened, his marathon quest provided a lot of unexpected fun.
The Wicked Marathon in Wamego, Kansas, home to The Wizard of Oz Museum, started in a cornfield and ended in a downtown filled with people dressed as characters from the movie.
Races in Alaska and Hawaii provided great vacation destinations, and he ran marathons alongside his son in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and his son-in-law in Baton Rouge.
“Everywhere we go … we take Segway tours if they have one available, and we just meet the nicest people,” Younger said. “We say, ‘What do you do around here? What’s fun?’”
There have been interesting encounters. In Jackson, Mississippi, in which the temperature never got above freezing, an older runner saw a scripture verse on Younger’s shirt and asked about his goals for the race. Younger said he wanted to finish in under five hours for the first time.
“The man said, ‘Let’s do it. I’m going to help you,’” Nina Younger recalled. “He ran almost the entire length of the course with Claude. They were real close, about a mile or two from the finish line, and he said, ‘OK, you’ve got this. I’m going to go help another brother.’”
Younger finished in just under five hours.
At the other end of the comfort spectrum was the Prairie View Marathon outside Chicago, which had only four water stations. Younger became dehydrated and his legs cramped. Nina Younger volunteers to work at the finish line when he races.
“It was well past the five-hour mark, and I was really getting worried,” she said. “When I saw him at a distance and he collapsed, my heart about stopped, and he got up and was able to finish.”
Although heat couldn’t stop Younger, another force of nature almost did. Permanently.
Younger moved into his house in the Plantation Estates subdivision because it was 3 feet above the 1983 flood level. But the August 2016 flood put 28 inches of water into his home. As the water rose, the Youngers put as much furniture as they could onto tables and kitchen counters, then got rescued by the Cajun Navy.
Two days later, Younger waded back into the house to empty the refrigerator. He had cut his foot the day of the flood, and he contracted a severe case of leptospirosis that caused his liver and kidneys to shut down. It nearly killed him.
Hospitalized for eight days, Younger said his doctor told him that his high level of fitness worked to his benefit.
He also told him his running days were over. Younger thought otherwise.
To avoid stress on his kidneys from dehydration, he limited himself to half-marathons for his last seven runs. He wants to one day run with his grandchildren.
“About three days before I got out (of the hospital), when I had turned the corner and they said that it looks like you’re going to make it, I called my friend who got me to run the first race and said, ‘Dude, I want to thank you for saving my life,’” Younger recalled. “He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘If you hadn’t called and convinced me to start running, I’d probably be dead right now.’”