Nikic Becomes First to Complete an Ironman with Down Syndrome


Chris Nikic crossed the finish line at the 2020 Visit Panama City Beach IRONMAN® Florida on November 7 in 16:46:09, making history as the first person with Down syndrome to complete a full-distance IRONMAN triathlon.
Chris Nikic, a 21-year old recent high-school graduate, keynote public speaker, and Special Olympics Florida Athlete from Maitland, Florida, was determined to become an IRONMAN and overcome barriers of trisomy 21 to prove that ‘Anything is Possible®’. With the support of his family and friends, and the coaching and guidance of Dan Grieb, Chris made history, showing what is possible for people all over the world.
Chris embarked on his IRONMAN journey just before 5:52 a.m. CST, taking to the Gulf of Mexico outside Panama City Beach’s Pier Park for the two-loop swim around Russell-Fields Pier. Brimming with enthusiasm, he exited the water completing the 2.4-mile swim in 1:54:39 and headed to transition before taking off on the 112-bike course. Despite enduring fire ant bites while stopping for nutrition and some cuts on his leg from a bike spill, Chris pushed on, completing the daunting bike course in 8:12:37. Embarking on the final discipline, Chris dug deep and finished the 26.2 marathon run in 6:18:48.
“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory. 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,” said Nik Nikic, father to Chris.
After seeing his son undergo four surgeries and becoming increasingly sedentary at the age of 18, Nik encouraged Chris through a principle he created initially for his workplace – to be 1% better every day. For Chris, this journey to IRONMAN started with one push up, and continued to today’s completion of a full-distance IRONMAN triathlon, with no plans on stopping there. As his father Nik says, “If Chris can do an IRONMAN, he can do anything.”
“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 and can follow his lead,” says Dan Grieb, Chris’s guide and coach.
In recognition of this accomplishment, Chris has been certified as a record holder in the Guinness World Records.
“It’s been a privilege to follow Chris’s progress remotely and I’m absolutely overjoyed to see him cross the finish line,” said Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief at Guinness World Records. “The IRONMAN event is a challenge that tests even the most experienced of athletes, so how thrilling it is to see Chris join the ranks of those who can say ‘I did it!’ His dedication and commitment are awe-inspiring, sending a message to everyone that you can achieve your dreams no matter what obstacles you face. It’s an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN, and I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man.”
Through the IRONMAN Foundation (IMF), Chris Nikic raced as a Team IMF athlete with a mission to help others with special needs achieve their dreams. In collaboration with the IRONMAN Foundation, Chris has raised nearly to $40,000 to date with 100% of funds going to help causes important to him. Donations can still be provided by visiting here.
In the 42-year history of IRONMAN, hundreds of thousands of athletes put themselves to the test at IRONMAN triathlons around the world each year. While abilities of all kinds have been welcomed and celebrated at races throughout the years, Chris is the first person with Down syndrome to even sign up for the event.
“We are extremely honored and proud that Chris chose IRONMAN as his vehicle to prove that Anything is Possible. His journey has inspired so many and reminded us of the power and resiliency of the human spirit,” said Andrew Messick, President & CEO of The IRONMAN Group.
Chris is also an Olympic hopeful and will be looking to qualify for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games taking place in Orlando.
In the first full-distance IRONMAN event to take place in North America during 2020, a strong field of professional athletes provided some stellar performances in a race to remember. Chris Leiferman of Boulder, Colo. took the overall victory with a total time of 7:52:44. Following behind Leiferman in second was Matt Hanson of Storm Lake, Iowa with an overall time of 7:55:02. Sam Long of Boulder Colo. rounded out the podium with a total time of 7:55:33. In the women’s professional race, Katrina Matthews of Great Britain took the overall win with an overall time of 8:40:50. Skye Moench of Salt Lake City, Utah, came in second with a time of 8:46:35 and rounding out the podium was Meredith Kessler of Columbus, Ohio with a total time of 8:59:01. Coinciding with the event was the Visit Panama City Beach IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast which saw Grace Alexander of Atlanta, Ga. take the overall win with a time of 4:33:36. William Martin of Orlando, Fla. won the men’s race with a time of 4:36:39.

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