Orlando: Chris Nikic a 21-year-old from an Orlando suburb became the first person with Down syndrome to conquer the grueling endurance race the Ironman triathlon; a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run — in under 17 hours.
To be able to understand the kind of odds faced by Nickie during that race and where his undying endurance came from, here is giving you a picture of what his childhood looked like.
Born in 1999 to his parents Nik and Patty in Maitland, Florida, Nickie rattled off a list of obstacles before becoming the first person with Down syndrome in the 42-year history of Ironman, to sign up for the event: at 5 months old, he endured open-heart surgery. Not being able to walk until age 4 or eat solid foods until age 5. Four major ear operations at age 17. And struggling still, as a young adult, with balance, slow reaction time, and low muscle tone. It took years for him to learn how to tie his shoes. At every turn of this life, he was warned about his limits instead of being encouraged of the possibilities. But in Chris’s mind, nothing was insurmountable.
And when people told Chris he couldn’t do something, he simply said: Watch me and I’m going to prove you wrong.
Struggling with normalcy and acceptance all throughout his childhood, by his early teens Chris found his solace in sports: he was running sprints, swimming, and playing basketball in the Special Olympics. Aged 15 his parents taught him how to ride a bike. It was after he got involved with the Special Olympics triathlon and built up enough skill and endurance to do a 1,000-meter open-water lake swim in October 2019, when Nik and Patty’s mindset shifted, and decided to sign Nickie up for the Triathalon race, not because such a feat would put him in the record books but because it would mean that he is capable of doing big things, take care of himself, motivate others like himself to go after their dreams, and fulfill his ultimate dream: to live independently and have a wife and a family of his own.
Ultimately, Chris’s Ironman attempt wasn’t for the attention or the accolades. Instead, it was about inspiring the millions of others like him around the world to reach their full potential.
Completing one of the most taxing sporting events in human history in 16 hrs, 46 minutes and 9 seconds, 14 minutes under the 17-hour cutoff time. As the race began, Nickie with Grieb his coach, and guide for the race emerged from the choppy sea in just under two hours. In the next segment, he fell off his bike and was attacked by ants at a nutrition stop which swarmed his ankles and bit at his flesh, causing his legs to swell. But he kept going. However, at the 10th Mile of the marathon segment, he slowed so much that he was barely moving at all. He was in pain and there was anguish in his eyes. Just then his father clutched onto him and whispered in his ear: “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?”
Chris Nikic knew this wasn’t only about finishing an Ironman, but about showing himself what he could achieve in the future. His own home. Independence. A wife as kind and beautiful as his mother.
“My dreams,” he told his father, “are going to win.” One step. Two. Three. One step. Two. Three. He held onto the rhythm and crossed the finishing line with his arms held high.
“I achieved my goal and now I want to help others like me,” he wrote to Instagram.