Chris Nikic, 21, from Florida, had been training for years to achieve his goal of completing an Ironman, in which participants must complete a 2-mile swim in open water, a 112-mile bike ride, and run a full marathon in 17 hours.
During his training, Nikic focused on incremental growth, slowly increasing his performance until he was ready to take on the whole challenge last November 7.
As reported by TODAY, ahead of the race, Nikic said he was ‘going to make history by crushing it’, and that’s exactly what he did. Organizers for the event said Nikic is the first person with Down syndrome to even attempt the race, and he completed it in 16 hours, 46 minutes.
The Special Olympics connected Nikic with 16-time Ironman competitor Dan Grieb, who helped train him for his challenge.
Triathlete reported that Nikic and Grieb worked up to six hours a day, six times a week, and the 21-year-old found ways to adjust to any physical limitations, for example by riding a flat handlebar bike and not clipping in to prevent possible falls.
Florida race officials required that Grieb be tethered to Nikic in the ocean, to ride behind him during the bike ride, and to stay near him on the run.
Grieb admitted that he felt the ‘pressure’ to have a positive influence on Nikic’s performance.
“God specifically elected me for this young man and his family,” Grieb said.
Nikic held his hands up in celebration as he crossed the finish line, before hugging his guide and those there to support him. His favorite part of the challenge is the run, in part because it ‘makes [his] butt cute and the ladies love it’.
Nik, Nikic’s dad discussed how he and his wife supported their son to help him achieve his dreams, saying that the ‘most important thing’ is that Nikic is ‘included’ and has ‘a sense of purpose’.
“When your child is born with Down syndrome everyone tells you what they can’t do and how tough it is going to be… Chris is going to prove if he can do an Ironman and he can do anything else,” Nik said. “Being first opens a lot of doors for him and people like him.”
As news about Nikic’s decision to take on the Ironman began to spread, he found that parents started to reach out to him and tell him that he is a ‘hero to their kids’.
With the Florida triathlon complete, Nikic is now focused on taking part in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii next year.