MAITLAND, Fla. – Last year, an Orange County man with Down syndrome made headlines after becoming the first person with his condition to become an Ironman.
Chris Nikic completed a full Ironman triathlon in under 17 hours in Panama City Beach, and now he’s getting ready for his second full Ironman race in October, which is taking place in Hawaii.
“This is an invitation only. The only people that get invited are folks that have qualified. Chris has qualified; only the best of the best get there,” Nikic’s coach and guide Dan Grieb said. “This course is significantly different. It’s going to be a lot hotter so we’re training later in the day already. We’re training in heat and we know that it has a lot of hills so we’re out in Clermont riding Sugarloaf Mountain.”
Dan said Nikic has been training six to seven days a week, two times a day.
“I feel like I’m making progress,” Nikic said.
His trainer said Nikic has not only made progress in his physical endurance but mentally as well.
“His physical change is significant, no doubt about it. But what’s more important and the part that we didn’t think we would see is we’re seeing a real growth cognitively for him. He’s forming sentences that we’ve never seen him do before. We’re seeing him recollect things at a faster pace,” Grieb said.
And far from achieving this new goal, Grieb said Nikic’s hopes go beyond the race.
“For him, it’s about inclusion. See, a lot of people hear Chris’ story and they think, ‘Wow that boy accomplished his dream of becoming an Ironman’ but the reality is that’s not his dream. His dream is to live a life of independence,” Grieb said. “Every mile he runs, every lap he swims, every time he gets on that bicycle, he’s one step closer to his dream.”
A dream that Nikic said includes finding love.
“My dream is to have my own house to have a car, to marry a woman and to have unconditional love,” Nikic said. “Having Down syndrome, I’m using that as a vehicle to help the kid’s and they need to realize they’re here and they need to work hard. They have to be willing to do it with a smile.”
A GoFundMe for Nikic can be found here.
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