First athlete with Down syndrome to compete in Ironman

Hometown Heroes

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — With the Ironman Florida just nine days away, hundreds of athletes are coming to Panama City Beach to compete in the huge triathlon.

One of those competitors, traveling from Maitland, Florida, will make history while inspiring people all over the country.

Chris Nikic, 21, has Down syndrome. The special olympian will be making history as the first person with that particular disability to compete in an Ironman. He and the other triathletes will begin with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and finish with a 26.2-mile run. It’s not an easy race for any athlete to complete.

“He is physically so much more capable than anything we ever imagined,” said Chris’ father Nik Nikic. “So, he’s gonna live a really fun life because he’s gonna be able to participate in just about anything, cause if you can do Ironman, you can do anything.”

Nikic will compete in the race with his unified partner and coach, Dan Grieb. Grieb said training with Nikic has inspired him as well because before meeting Nikic he had never met somebody with Down syndrome.

“One of the most magical things that has happened to me is that I’ve been able to be introduced in this world and in this world I’ve learned that a hug can solve a lot of problems and some of the greatest among us are labeled with words like disability,” Grieb said about training with Nikic.

Nikic trains hard, operating under what he calls the 1% better mentality. Where he aims to get better 1% every day, but he also has a sense of humor when it comes to keeping in shape. When asked what his favorite triathlon event to compete in was, Nikic responded “running because it makes my butt cute.”

Nikic’s secret to success is simple though. When his father asked him, “do you ever quit?” Nikic said, “No, I do it with a smile.” “He’s got a secret, he does everything with a smile and he never quits,” Nikic’s father added.

Nikic’s story is inspiring others around the country, especially those who are just like him.

“From a broader pespective, Chris is developing a purpose in life, a mission to help others like him realize their dreams and live a full and inclusive life.” Nik Nikic said.

The message Nikic receives are humbling to him, as many are telling Nikic that his story is motivating them to achieve their goals too.

“They’re saying I’m their hero, and it’s really powerful.”

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