Down Syndrome Athlete Triumphs at the Ironman Triathlon

Down Syndrome Athlete Triumphs at the Ironman Triathlon

April 13, 2021 by Cathy Stack

Chris Nikic raced right into the Guinness World Records by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete one of the world’s most grueling races, the Ironman Triathlon. In 17 hours, Chris competitively swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran a full 26.2-mile marathon. Chris trained for 10 months, 3 hours a day going 13 out of 14 days to achieve his dream. He not only redefined his own boundaries, and shattered stereotypes but has paved the way for millions of others with disabilities and inspired us all.

Nothing has come easy for Chris who has faced many obstacles in his childhood.  His father, Nick, said that his son suffered from illnesses most of his life.  Chris was born with a heart defect and underwent numerous major surgeries. All through his ailments, the little boy always had an indomitable spirit.

“When you have a child with Down syndrome, they don’t fit in, they are different, they don’t get invited to parties.  They don’t get invited to anything. Everything you do is a challenge, it is a fight. It is a battle to just get them to be included.” His father said overcome with emotion.

Despite his life challenges, Chris strives to stay positive and work hard to overcome his obstacles.  “Don’t tell me that I’ll fail,” the young man defiantly replies to those who tell him he can’t do something. 

Chris has always been athletic, so his father found a Special Olympics Triathlon program for him to participate in.  His father viewed the program as a fun thing they could do together.  He also envisioned Chris doing something that no one had ever done before.  He knew accomplishing a challenging event such as the Ironman Triathlon would make an incredibly powerful impact, not only on his son but for many others with disabilities.  He asked Chris if he would be interested in participating in the notoriously grueling race.  “Yes, let’s do it!” Chris enthusiastically replied.

Individuals with Down Syndrome, like Chris, often struggle with poor balance and delayed reaction time.  Therefore, it took him a little longer to complete training routines in the beginning.  However, Chris is no quitter, he kept on practicing. With his fierce grit, perseverance and his family’s encouragement, every day he grew better, faster and stronger. 

Chris and his father encountered many doubters at the beginning of his training.  Some believed the race was an overly ambitious mission even for a person without a learning disability.  Nick recalled how the Ironman coach at first refused to create a workout plan for his son.  The coach didn’t believe that Chris would be able to handle the ocean swim segment.  Nick, being the ever-tenacious father, would not take no for an answer.  “I need you to give my kid the same chance as you would anyone else,” he told the coach with steadfast conviction.  When experts spoke of his son’s limits, he instead focused on his possibilities.  “Nobody gets in the way of Chris Nikic’s dreams,” said his adamant, devoted father. 

Nick helped his son stay motivated and tracked his progress with his transformative motto to get “1% better every day.” The small improvements over time build into a winning momentum.    

The day of the Triathlon finally arrived; excitement was building.  Nick was right there with his son to cheer him on.  What time is it? asked Nick.  “It's' game time baby!” Chris optimistically shouted.

In the last miles of the torturous race, Chris struggled to breath in the hot, humid air and his feet burned as they pounded the pavement, but he kept on running. He was determined to win the test of endurance and defeat all odds. He triumphantly crossed the finish line as he heard those exhilarating words ring loud and clear, “Chris Nikic, you are an Ironman!”

“He is my hero, he has always been,” Chris’s sister, Jackie said with great pride. PassItOn and Foundation For A Better Life believes Chris is a champion to us all.  He showed us all that we can do anything we put our minds to.  His accomplishment is a great example of the value of perseverance.  He pushed through mental and physical fatigue and pain to realize his dream.  In doing so, he has stripped away preconceived notions of what is possible.  His momentous acheivement has instilled hope and inspired millions.  Please help us honor this true hero by sharing his remarkable story.

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Down Syndrome Athlete Triumphs at the Ironman Triathlon #perseverance #passiton Chris Nikic raced right into the...

Posted by Foundation for A Better Life on Tuesday, April 13, 2021

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Your Comments
Kennerh from Calgary AB, Canada APRIL 18, 2021

Kephas Agango from Kisumu, Kenya. APRIL 14, 2021
CONGRATS! No one is limited, Chris Nikic has just smashed this kind of myth.

Rose APRIL 13, 2021
This was the most inspiring story ever!! ❤️❤️❤️ You go Chris!! 👍👍👍

Mariana Miller-D'Alessandro from Bronx, New York APRIL 13, 2021
Amazing and moving sharing story of Chris Nikic and his family and coach -- to will to go on and achieve a hard goal -- even when others tell you no! Thank God for his dad and his program for Down Syndrome and his daily support for his son! We need more programs and examples like this! God bless! Mariana

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