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Claude Toukene takes last lap at Western Branch High School

Posted at 11:30 PM, Apr 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-20 23:52:58-04

Claude Toukene

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - It's not a lane Claude Toukene envisioned staying in for a long time.

"We had a plan," Toukene, the highly-decorated Western Branch track and field coach, explained. "My wife was in grad school. When she finished pharmacy school, I was supposed to go back, either go to Med school or law school."

But it would not take long for Toukene to see it was him who needed to carry the baton at Western Branch High School.

"Once I get there I realize the amount of work that needed to be done," Toukene said. "Somebody had to do the job, that is extremely draining, emotionally financially, intellectually."

Claude Toukene

Even if his job as a counselor, educator and coach has left him on low battery mode - it's his team that keeps him charged.

"He's a father figure," explained Bruins sprinter Zaire Huyghue. "He taught us more than just track, he taught us how to be a man for the boys, and a lady for the girls."

"On and off the track, he teaches me life," added sprinter Shadajah Ballard. "He helps me get better, be a better person."

"When I first got here I think he did was really make me believe," Byron Robinson said.

Because he believed in Robinson - that belief helped Byron work his way to becoming an Olympian. Like others that have come through the program, there were times when Toukene had to help pay their way into elite competition.

"I think Tooks just likes seeing people do well," Robinson, a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, said. "Because I know he's even done that for me. I know if he didn't while I was in school, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I've seen kids who are the first in their family to graduate high school. I've seen people who are the first people in their family to graduate from college. There is no prize when you can change a kids life."

Claude Toukene

And no one has done more with less.

With no rubber track and barely enough hurdles for the team to practice with, Toukene's 25 state titles will be talked about by the outsiders. However, current and former Bruins say it's the talks off the blocks they will recall.

"I will remember the Three D's -- Drive, determination, and discipline," Ballard admitted. "Those are three things that I will remember that will carry on. He wants to see us go far. He want to see us be successful in life, not just in track, but life in general."

"It's just track and field at the end of the day," Robinson noted. "Me and Tooks' best experiences and moments and even conversations came with things completely unrelated to track."

This spring is the final lap for "Touks" at Western Branch. However, his lifelong marathon continues.