Special Olympics athlete Chris Nikic made history on Saturday by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon.
Nikic had finished a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-marathon run at the Ironman Florida competition held in Panama City Beach – a feat recognized by Guiness World Records.
“We are beyond inspired, and your accomplishment is a defining moment in Ironman history that can never be taken away from you,” wrote the Ironman Triathlon organization on Twitter.
Nikic had conquered the race in 16 hours 46 minutes and 9 seconds – 14 minutes under the 17-hour cutoff time.
According to the Special Olympic’s release, Nikic fell off his bike and was attacked by ants at a nutrition stop, but he pushed on to finish the competition.
“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being who has goals and dreams just like everyone else,” said his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb.
“He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead.”
Nikic and his father Nik developed the “1 percent better challenge” – an idea to promote Down syndrome awareness while achieving 1% improvement each day – to keep themselves motivated during training.
“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” said Nik.
“Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.”
After his recent accomplishments, Nikic has his eyes set on competing in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, which will be held in Orlando on June 5-12.
“I achieved my goal and now I want to help others like me,” Nikic wrote on Instagram.
In the meantime, he uses his experiences through his IRONMAN quest to raise money for Special Olympics, Down syndrome and RODS.