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21-year-old inspires the world and makes history as the first Ironman finisher with Down syndrome

Chris Nikic is a strong-willed young man. If he says he’ll do something, he’ll follow through no matter how tough the circumstances. That’s exactly what he did last Saturday when he made history as the first Ironman triathlon finisher with Down syndrome.

The grueling race comprised a 2.4-mile swim, 26.2-mile run, and a 112-mile bike ride, and Chris mightily finished it in 16:46:09, nearly 14 minutes ahead of Ironman Florida’s 17-hour time limit.

The impressive feat landed the 21-year-old in the Guinness World Records. He will be forever known as an Ironman triathlon finisher, a feat that not everyone can do. 

But even before it all happened, Chris already knew he was going to be a champion.

“I am a person with Down syndrome who will complete the Ironman. I am going to make history by crushing it,” the Maitland, Florida resident told TODAY before completing the race.

Dan Grieb, who has completed 16 Ironman races, guided Chris throughout the event. He was attached to his training partner via tether during the swimming and running events. However, Dan didn’t do any pulling or assisting.

“When we first started … he didn’t properly move his arm through the water,” Dan recalled of Chris’ performance. “But what was really impressive is that he never gave up. He didn’t freak out. He didn’t get scared. He just kept going.”

Organizers said Chris is also the first person with Down syndrome to attempt the race and eventually became a ‘finisher’.

For Chris, it’s all about taking a step towards fulfilling his dreams.

“I have to work hard and give my best every day. If I do an Ironman and become a pro-speaker I will have a chance to get my dream,” he said.

Like most people, Chris dreams of getting a job, owning a house and a car, and having a “smoking hot blonde wife.”

“‘Smoking hot blonde’ is a concept,” Nik Nikic, his dad, explained. “He’s looking for a special person in his life.”

Before the Ironman, Chris dedicated 4 to 8 hours of his day to training. During the weekends, he would alternate between going for a long bike ride and a long run. He says the latter is his favorite event in the race.

“I would say the running. It makes my butt cute and the ladies love it,” Chris joked. “I am extremely excited. I can’t wait to crush this Ironman.”

During training, he had a bike crash that led to him getting 14 stitches. The accident kept him from training for a month. But he eventually recovered and got back on his bike.

Aside from seeing the Ironman as a step to reach his goals, Chris kept on training because parents of children with Down syndrome said they admired him for proving that nothing is impossible for people with their condition.

“Parents are reaching out saying I am a hero to their kids,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

And Nik couldn’t agree more. When he and his wife, Patty, learned that their son had Down syndrome, doctors told them all the things he wouldn’t be able to do. People around them also said how hard it’s going to be.

Chris completing the Ironman is a step forward not only for him, but also for other people with the same condition. It’s a triumph that will open a lot of doors.

“It’s helping to give people of view of a future that is completely different,” Nik said. “Our hope is that Chris will launch thousands of parents to look at their children differently.”

Chris completing the Ironman is proof that the limiting beliefs people used to have about individuals with Down syndrome have long changed.

With sheer determination and hard work, this young man proved to everyone that anything is possible! Follow Chris Nikic’s final 2 miles as he becomes the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN.

Share this inspiring story of  Chris the Ironman finisher with your friends and family.

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