Maitland’s Chris Nikic to receive prestigious award at Espys

Athlete became the first person with down syndrome to complete Iron Man triathlon

The ESPYS awards are coming up in a few weeks and this year, a young man from Maitland who made history last year will be honored with the Jimmy V award.

MAITLAND, Fla. – The ESPYS awards are coming up in a few weeks and this year, a young man from Maitland who made history last year will be honored with the Jimmy V award.

In November 2020, 21-year-old Chris Nikic made headlines after he became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Iron Man triathlon, which included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run.

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Seven months after finishing the event in under 17 hours at Panama City beach, Nikic will be honored on July 10 with the prestigious award for perseverance — given to a person in the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. It’s named after Jim Valvano, an American college basketball player, coach and sports commentator who died from cancer in 1993 and inducted into the Rutgers basketball hall of fame.

1989: Head coach Jim Valvano of the North Carolina State Wolfpack gestures and yells to his team from the sidelines circa 1989. (Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images) (1989 Focus on Sport)

Nikic’s parents said they were incredibly moved when they heard their son was going to receive the honor.

“When they told us, Patty and I both broke down and cried -- couldn’t finish the conversation, this thing is so big,” said his father, Nik Nikic.

He said he and his wife, Patty, are unbelievably proud that their son will soon be among an extraordinary group of athletes.

“I was a basketball player in college and, you know, we followed Jimmy V and the North Carolina Wolfpack,” Nik Nikic said. “We know the magnitude of this thing and we are so thankful that as his parents, you know, we get to witness him experiencing this.”

His mother said she’s loved watching her son’s hard work pay off.

“Our hearts are full -- this is all blowing our minds that, you know, Chris has taken, you know, his whole life one step at a time doing the work. Like the award says, having the perseverance to carry on,” she said.

Nikic’s journey has inspired many to give 1% more each day — a motto he wears with pride and hopes others will follow.

“It represents me better than I was yesterday,” Nikic said in November.

And it’s that perseverance 14-year-old Caleb Prewitt of Jacksonville admires and looks up to in his hero, Nikic.

“If there was a poster with Chris on it, it would be in Caleb’s room,” Karen, Caleb’s mom said.

RALEIGH, NC - CIRCA 1980-1990: Jim Valvano, head coach of the North Carolina State University Wolfpack men's basketball team observes the play at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by North Carolina State University/Collegiate Images via Getty Images) (2013 North Carolina State Unive)

Prewitt, who has Down syndrome, met Nikic at a summer bike camp in Orlando. It was there where he got a little help from Nikic — who mentored him and was by his side while Prewitt trained.

“Just the fact that he was so warm and inspiring helped Caleb realize that these are things that I can do, too,” Karen said.

And he did. On June 12, Prewitt finished his first mini-triathlon and is believed to be the youngest person with Down syndrome to do so.

Prewitt also received an invitation to compete on Florida’s Special Olympics triathlon team — which Nikic is also part of.