A 21-year-old triathlete from Florida has become the first person with Down’s syndrome to finish an Ironman event – swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running a 26.2-mile marathon.
Chris Nikic crossed the line in 16 hours 46 minutes nine seconds – less than 14 minutes under the official cut-off time at the Visit Panama City Beach Ironman in Florida – to earn official recognition from Guinness World Records.
“You have shattered barriers while proving without a doubt that anything is possible,” the official Ironman account tweeted.
From a push-up to an Ironman
In Ironman’s 42-year history, no athlete with Down’s syndrome – a genetic condition that can cause varying degrees of learning disability and slower physical development – has even attempted an event, let alone finished one.
On Saturday, footage circulated on social media of Nikic’s father helping put running shoes on his son’s feet while – his voice breaking with pride – telling him “you are almost an Ironman buddy. You’re two thirds of an Ironman”.
Sporting cuts on his knees from a minor bike crash earlier in the day, Nikic duly did the rest, completing the marathon leg in darkness in six hours 18 minutes.
His journey to the finish line had started three years earlier when, after noticing his son was becoming increasingly sedentary, Nik Nikic encouraged him to become 1% fitter each day. Training began with a single push-up.
“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” said his father.
“Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion, normalcy, and leadership. It’s about being an example to other kids and families that face similar barriers, proving no dream or goal is too high.
“If Chris can do an Ironman, he can do anything.”
An Instagram ‘superstar’
Guinness World Records called Nikic’s achievement “awe inspiring” and registered him as officially the first person with Down’s syndrome to complete the gruelling challenge.
He has 33,000 new followers on Instagram, where he has received messages calling him a “superstar” and thanking him for inspiring the parents of children with Down’s syndrome.
“Goal set and achieved,” posted the man of the hour, a keen public speaker. “Time to set a new and bigger goal for 2021.”
He now has his eyes set on a being part of the 2022 Special Olympics, which will take place in Orlando, Florida.
“No limits. No boundaries,” tweeted tennis legend Billie Jean King. “Keep dreaming big and going for it, Chris!”