21-Year-Old Athlete Becomes First with Down Syndrome to Complete Ironman Triathlon

Chris Nikic now hopes to qualify for the 2022 Special Olympics U.S.A. Games in Orlando as a triathlete

Chris Nikic
Chris Nikic (L). Photo: Michael Reaves & Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images for IRONMAN

Ironman triathlons have been around for nearly 50 years, but it wasn’t until this weekend that an athlete with Down syndrome crossed the finish line following an arduous day of swimming, biking, and running.

Chris Nikic, 21, made history on Saturday as the first person with Down syndrome to not only sign up for but also to complete an Ironman when he clocked in in Panama City Beach, Florida, with a time of 16:46:09.

“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” his father, Nik Nikic, said in a statement. “Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion, normalcy, and leadership. It’s about being an example to other kids and families that face similar barriers, proving no dream or goal is too high.”

Chris, a recent high school graduate and public speaker who is also a Special Olympics Florida athlete, kicked off the challenge just before 6 a.m. local time alongside his guide and coach, Dan Grieb.

Chris Nikic
Chris Nikic. Michael Reaves & Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images for IRONMAN

Chris began with a 2.4-mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico and made it two loops around Russell-Fields Pier in just under two hours before starting the biking portion of the competition.

Despite a few setbacks — including bites from fire ants and cuts to his leg after he fell from his bike — Chris powered through to complete the 112-mile course in 8:12:37.

Victory now within reach, Chris was able to bring it home with the marathon, which he completed in 6:18:48.

“Goal set and achieved,” he wrote on Instagram afterward. “Time to set a new and BIGGER Goal for 2021. Whatever it is the strategy is the same. 1 percent Better every day.”

Improving by one percent each day is a mantra Chris’ father helped him adapt, and is the thought process that launched his Ironman journey in the first place as he began his training with a single push-up.

“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being that has goals and dreams just like everyone else. He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead,” Grieb said in a statement.

Chris Nikic
Chris Nikic. Michael Reaves & Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images for IRONMAN

Chris competed in the Ironman as a Team IRONMAN Foundation athlete and has raised nearly $40,000 to date to help accomplish his mission of helping others with special needs achieve their dreams.

His efforts on Sunday also helped him set a Guinness World Record as the very first athlete with Down syndrome to complete the triathlon.

Looking forward, Chris, who lives in Maitland, Florida, hopes to qualify for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando as a triathlete.

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