The Inspiring Story of Chris Nikic, The First Person with Down Syndrome to Dominate Ironman

It’s official, Chris Nikic just swam, biked and ran into the history books as the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman competition.

Chris Nikic has already accomplished more than most people and he’s only 21.

He now owns the distinction of being the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman competition. What’s most remarkable is that he spent most of his life with people telling him what he can’t do.

Somewhere along the line Chris and his family decided to concentrate more on what he could do, and it’s resulted in a spot in the Guinness World Records as a pioneer.

Chris, his father Nik and coach Dan Grieb, talk about what this journey has meant to them and what it’s meant for Chris as he tries to change this world one lap at a time.

On Saturday, the world was intently waiting for the results of a presidential election. In Panama City Beach, Chris was waking at four in the morning to prepare for the longest and most physically demanding day of his life.

He and Grieb would later jog up to the finish line, cheered on by supporters and people ready to give the very hugs that fueled Nikic through a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon. He would finish with time to spare, completing the competition in 16:46:09.

Read More: Chris Nikic is About to Make Ironman History

“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” Chris’s dad Nik Nikic, said after the race, via press release. “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.”

We sat down a week out from Ironman. The Nikic family was obviously excited, their energy was palpable even over Zoom chat.

Chris Nikic makes history becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN.

And coach Grieb was steadfast in his confidence that Nikic—despite entering uncharted territory as someone with Down syndrome attempting this grandiose feat—would be just fine and come away successful in the end.

“There's this programming that I've received through a lifetime [that] people with disabilities are not capable of doing what you and I are,” Grieb told En Fuego. “So therefore, it surprises you. I no longer am that surprised by what Chris can do, because I recognize what Chris is. He's not like this malfunctioning robot. He's a human being that has goals. Dreams just like you do.”

One thing that Chris told me prior to Saturday’s attempt rings more profoundly today.

“I learned that I am willing to work hard and get one percent better every day, then ‘Anything is Possible,’” he replied when asked what it means to him to attempt an Ironman. “But I also learned that I can get my dream.”

Nikic has been told “no” and “can’t” a lot during his 21 years. This past weekend, he proved that you can shatter those words and replace them with acceptance, inclusion, smiles and hugs.

The latest episode of the En Fuego Podcast features a family that realized their dream the second they wrested themselves from the cynical world of doubt.

Chris Nikic is an Ironman. 


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