Ironman Chris Nikic Proves That No Dream Or Goal Is Unachievable

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Chris Nikic is the world's first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman (Credit: Nik Nikic)

The next time you find an excuse to abandon your aspirations, think of Chris Nikic. On November 7, 2020, the 21-year-old Maitland, Florida, resident made history as the first person with Down Syndrome to attempt and complete an Ironman. Organized by the World Triathlon Corporation, the grueling competition requires athletes to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a full, 26.2-mile, marathon — in under 17 hours!

The event, which took place in Panama City, Florida, began early in the morning with a two-loop swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Chris, who was tethered to his coach and Ironman veteran Dan Grieb for safety, completed the course well within the allotted 2 hour, 20-minute time limit.

The 112-mile bike ride, which Chris rode solo, proved a little more challenging. Not accustomed to hydrating while riding, he was forced to make multiple stops. To make matters worse, the young athlete was attacked by an army of red ants whose mound he accidentally stepped on during a break. He also had to be treated for a bleeding knee after crashing while speeding downhill. Despite the setbacks, Chris managed to complete the loop before the 5:30 pm cut-off time.

Chris and his coach, Dan Grieb (Credit: Nik Nikic)

The competition's final challenge — a two-loop, 26.2-mile run along the waterfront — started smoothly. However, Chris, who was once again connected to Grieb with a bungee cord, was exhausted by the tenth mile. But, with encouragement from his dad and cheering bystanders, the youngster somehow managed to keep going and crossed the finish line in 16 hours, 46 minutes, and 9 seconds — almost 15 minutes under the 17-hour time limit

"Ironman. Goal set and achieve," Chris wrote on Instagram. "Time to set a new and Bigger Goal for 2021."

Chris is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Born with two holes in his heart, he underwent surgery at just five months old, was too weak to walk independently until he was four, and unable to swallow solid food until the age of five. Due to his Down Syndrome — a genetic disorder associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features — every expert his parents spoke to focused on the limitations rather than the possibilities.

“The doctors and experts said I couldn’t do anything,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in a Zoom interview. “So I said, 'Doctor! Experts! You need to stop doing this to me. You’re wrong!’"

Chris stands next to his whiteboard, which lists his goals and achievements (Credit: Nik Nikic)

Fortunately, his parents always encouraged Chris to pursue whatever activities interested him. By the time he was a teenager, Chris was running sprints, playing basketball, and swimming for the Special Olympics. He was introduced to biking at the age of 15. Though it took six months to perfect his technique, once he learned, there was no stopping him. In January 2018, the youngster signed up for a newly-launched triathlon program through Special Olympics Florida. Designed to train athletes with special needs, it included group training, biking, running, and open water swimming sessions. As his confidence grew, Chris began dreaming of completing triathlons, and, eventually, even an Ironman.

“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.”

Congratulations, Ironman Chris Nikic! You are a true inspiration to the world!

Resources: CNN.com, Runnersworld.com, chrisnikic.com.

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227 Comments
  • nitria
    nitria8 months
    Very lucky and brave!
    • rykycalo-162693574537
      Wow!He is so brave!!!
      • elementiaz
        elementiaz10 months
        Wow. He must be really brave. And next time you say Down Syndrome people are low on intelligence, look at his planning board.
      • blondie1218
        blondie1218over 1 year
        I can't believe he had help walking. But now he can walk all by he's self! He proved anything is possible!
        • dinobasketball7
          dinobasketball7over 1 year
          That seems sooooooooo hard!
          • meep124
            meep124over 1 year
            Really cool 😎! I think that if that happened to me my parents would FREAK! I bet it was so hard for him to do all of that. WOW! 😯🤩
            • luckygoldgurl
              luckygoldgurlover 1 year
              Woah...! Im speechless he has officially proved that anyone can achieve their dreams even though they think they can and what you just saw up there is proof. Chris Nikic is awesome and proved that if its your dream or goal you can achieve it
              • kebysumicyhy
                kebysumicyhyover 1 year
                that is so cool
                • adidassquad
                  adidassquadover 1 year
                  he proved that anything can be possible
                  • saisai
                    saisaiover 1 year
                    I agree that anything can be possible if you try hard work hard and practice! evan if you think you can't do it
                  • tealrancher
                    tealrancherover 1 year
                    Awsome!!!