In the pre-dawn darkness of Saturday, November 7, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City to start the IRONMAN Florida triathlon. Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, Chris crossed the finish line and made history as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.
Chris conquered a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon run to complete the IRONMAN in a total time of 16:46:09. During the race, Chris overcame an attack by ants during a nutrition stop and twice fell off of his bike. With blood dripping from his knee, he climbed back on and pushed ahead.
“I did the work but I had angels helping me,” Chris posted on Instagram after finishing. “God surrounded me with angels. Best part of all. New family and friends. All about awareness and inclusion. Awareness for Down syndrome and Special Olympics. Inclusion for all of us with all of you.”
Chris’ achievement landed him on the Guinness World Records list.
“It's an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN,” said Guiness Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday. “I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man."
To stay motivated during months of training, Chris and his father Nik developed the 1% better principle – get better, faster, and stronger by 1% every day. According to Nik, IRONMAN is further proof that all things are possible with a plan and determination.
“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” he said. “IRONMAN has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion, normalcy, and leadership.”
Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb put it this way: “I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being that has goals and dreams just like everyone else. He wants to make the path easier for those just like him so they can follow his lead.”
While chasing his goal, Chris received “good luck” messages on social media from people around the world including celebrities like Akbar Gbajabiamila, host of America Ninja Warrior, and WWE superstars Mojo Rawley and Bianca Belair.
Chris, a recent high-school graduate, will turn his attention to qualifying to compete in triathlon for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, to be held in Orlando June 5-12, 2022. In the meantime, he’s using his notoriety to raise money for Special Olympics, Down syndrome and RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome). Learn more.
“We are incredibly proud of Chris and the work he has put in to achieve this monumental goal,” said Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock. “He’s become a hero to athletes, fans, and people across Florida and around the world. He’s an inspirational to all of us.”