Florida man becomes first person with Down syndrome to finish Ironman triathlon


PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — A 21-year-old Florida man has made history as the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in a single day.

The Special Olympics announced on Twitter Sunday that Chris Nikic officially completed the Ironman triathlon. The organization connected Nikic with Ironman competitor Dan Grieb, who helped train him.

“I’m an IRONMAN,” Nikic told NewsNation affiliate WBMM.

Nikic said he crashed his bike and was bitten up by fire ants before the marathon portion of the race, but it didn’t stop him from achieving his goal.

“I decided to get back up and fight my way through,” Nikic said.

He battled his way to the end alongside his coach and guide Dan Grieb, who said it was an honor to bring Nikic all the way to the finish line.

“I told his Dad, you’ve done an amazing job raising your son for 21 years, let me take him for the next 17 hours and I’ll return to you an Ironman, and I was happy and honored to keep my promise,” Grieb said.

Florida race officials required Nikic to be tethered to Grieb in the ocean Saturday for safety reasons. Grieb also rode behind Nikic on the bike course and stayed near him on the run. But Nikic did all the work on his own.

Nikic crossed the finish line in 16.46.09, according to Ironman.

For Nikic, he says it wasn’t all about the time on the clock or even being crowned an Ironman, it was to show others like him that anything is possible.

“You have to stay fit, stay strong, be confident. That moment when you cross the finish line, you’ll say I’m like Chris Nikic,” Nikic said.

“You don’t see before you today a young man with Down syndrome, you see before you an IRONMAN,” Grieb said.

“Special Olympics Florida is incredibly proud of Chris Nikic and the work he’s put in over the last few years to achieve this monumental goal,“ said Sherry Wheelock, the president and CEO of Special Olympics Florida. “Chris has become a hero to many athletes, fans and individuals across Florida and around the country. He is an inspiration to us all, and we couldn’t be prouder of his remarkable accomplishments.” 

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliates WMBB and WFLA contributed to this report.

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