Athlete with Down syndrome creates history by completing the Ironman Triathlon

Ahana Chowdhury

22nd November 2020

Chris Nikic during the 112-mile bicycle ride portion of the Ironman Triathlon (Source: Reuters Photo)

21-year-old athlete Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete the ironman triathlon— an arduous long-distance race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run.

The event took place at Panama City Beach, Florida, where Chris completed the race in 16 hours 46 minutes and 9 seconds—14 minutes under the time limit. The race was documented via social media updates, and the last two miles of Nikic's run were live-streamed on the Triathlon's Facebook page.

Nikic's achievement earned him a place within the pages of Guinness World Records and invited a tweet from the Ironman Triathlon Organisation that read, "We are beyond inspired, and your accomplishment is a defining moment in Ironman history that can never be taken away from you."

Needless to say, Nikic didn't get here without jumping across more than an average man's share of hurdles. When he was only 5 months old, Nikic had to undergo open-heart surgery. The after-effects made him so weak that he was unable to walk until the age of 4. He was fed baby food till the age of 6 to prevent him from choking. It took him months to learn how to swing his arms by his side when he ran and years to learn how to tie his shoelaces.

"I always felt isolated, left out, excluded," Chris reminisced to Deccan Herald.

What remained unchanged through the years, however, was Nikic's will of steel. By his early teens, he was already sprinting, swimming and playing basketball in the Special Olympics.

This year, Nikic wanted to push himself further, and with the help of his father, Nik Nikic, and volunteer coach Dan Grieb, he began to prepare himself for the Ironman. "To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory," Nik Nikic said, as per CNN. "Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership."

The day of the race was not smooth sailing either. Nikic fell off his bike while speeding down a hill and was attacked by a mob of ants when he halted at a stop to hydrate himself, yet, he persevered.

When he crossed the finish line with his arms raised high, Nikic had created history. He was met with cheers of support and congratulatory words from celebrities such as Billie Jean King and Kara Goucher.

"I achieved my goal, and now I want to help others like me," he said on Instagram.

Nikic is now setting his sights on competing in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games and raising money for Special Olympics, Down syndrome and RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome). He hopes to support and inspire others like him so that they, too, can achieve their goals someday.

(Sources: CNN, Deccan Herald, New York Times, ABC News)

Edited by: Suditi Jha

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