Orange County man with Down syndrome completes Ironman race

Chris Nikic crashed his bike while going 20 mph, he still completed the triathlon

MAITLAND, Fla. – Chris Nikic, 21, is inspiring others to try 1% more each day. It’s a motto the new Ironman lives by.

“It represents me better than I was yesterday,” Chris Nikic said about what that 1% he had printed on his orange T-shirt means to him.

“What he accomplished for a person with Down syndrome is fantastic,” coach and guide Dan Grieb said.

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On Nov. 7, Chris became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon in just under 17 hours in Panama City Beach. It’s a grueling competition where thousands participate, but not everyone is able to finish the race.

“Ironman is unforgiving. There are no special divisions. They don’t give you more time because you have Down syndrome. You have to finish it in 17 hours. If you finish at 17 hours and one minute, you’re not an Ironman,” Grieb said.

Chris Nikic’s father recalled that feeling of tranquility once he saw his son cross the finish line.

“My first thought was that I was in complete peace because I saw him do something that showed me that he can do anything and he can take care of himself,” Nick Nikic said.

During the race, Chris Nikic encountered a couple of setbacks.

Chris Nikic, 21, is the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon in under 17 hours. (WKMG 2020)

“One of them was when we stopped his bike to do some nutrition and hydration, he stood in an ant pile. And the ants got all over him,” his coach said.

Once Chris Nikic was back on his bike, he was descending a hill at more than 20 mph. When he tried to slow down, he lost control.

“He ended up falling on his bike at roughly 20 an hour. Rolled over a couple of times and stood up and said ‘I’m fine,'” Grieb said.

The ant bites caused swelling on his left ankle and bruises on his right leg from the fall, Chris fought through the pain and kept going.

“I pulled over to the side of the road and I cried for three or four minutes and just thought, ‘This is just amazing what he’s doing,’” his father said.

Chris Nikic’s father hopes their story will not only set an example of tenacity and perseverance but will show other parents with children who have Down syndrome that they can achieve anything as long as you let them.

“The message that we wanna send is: It takes us as parents to be willing to trust to have our kids really be included in the rest of the world,” Nick Nikic said. “When other people start doing for you, you’re not gonna get the benefits of life. You’re always gonna be counting on someone else. So our kids need to do more for themselves.”

Chris Nikic also understands the importance of that message.

“The key to success would be to let them live independently. Let them go out into the open world. Let them be included,” Chris Nikic said.

As for those who didn’t believe Chris Nikic could conquer a goal, his dad said they need to be more positive.

“You think you’re saying something protectful or something that’s helping. You’re not. Because you’re creating a scenario where people start to believe you,” Nick Nikic said. “To all those out in the community, give our kids a chance. Don’t prejudge them and predetermine what they can or can’t do. They may not be able to do it but let them decide that.”

Chris Nikic, 21, is the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon in under 17 hours. (WKMG 2020)

About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.