Man with Down’s Syndrome trains for Ironman Triathlon

Chris Nikic
Chris Nikic Image credit:

A man from Maitland, Florida is set to become the first person with Down syndrome to complete the Ironman triathlon.

The gruelling contest consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle ride and a 26.22 run, it’s known as one of the most difficult sporting events in the world.

Taking on this challenge is 21-year-old Chris Nikic who has been training for the competition over the past twelve months.

He told TODAY: “I am a person with Down syndrome who will complete the Ironman. I am going to make history by crushing it.

“Then I am going to make history again in Kona.”

The next Ironman World Championship is due to take place in Kona, Hawaii during October 2021.

“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,” Chris explained.

Apart from taking on the ambitious challenge Chris has another mission he wants to fulfil, to find a partner.

His dad Nik Nikic said: “For me and my wife, the most important thing is that my son is being included and having a sense of purpose.

“I am excited about being a part of this journey and watching him and seeing how he feels and how he handles things and watching him being included by the Ironman Foundation.”

Helping Chris prepare for the challenge is trainer Dan Grieb, who has already completed 16 Ironman races.

Grieb said: “I have a 30% influence on Chris’ performance positively. I can pull him or push him … But I can derail him.

“I feel that pressure, but I do believe that God specifically elected me for this young man and his family.”

Now and again things become tough during training, but Grieb has a method of getting Chris back on track.

“One way we have been able to reboot him is to give him a hug. We call it a hug of vulnerability and while I am hugging him, I am saying things like, ‘I know it’s hard. Ironman is hard. Life is hard sometimes,’” the coach explained.

Chris is training between 4 to 8 hours a day, his weekends are spent going on a bike and long runs, it’s the latter he most looks forward to!

“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.”

Although the cycling didn’t go ‘quite’ to plan, Chris had a nasty crash which saw him out of action for a month after having 14 stitches in hospital.

Chris has also been an inspiration to others, especially families of children with Down’s syndrome.

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

His father remembers the time when he and his wife, Patty, were told their son had the condition.

“When your child is born with Down syndrome everyone tells you what they can’t do and how tough it is going to be. Chris is going to prove if he can do an Ironman and he can do anything else,” Nik said. “Being first opens a lot of doors for him and people like him.”

For more information about the competition visit the Ironman Triathlon website.