Shattered Barriers

“You have shattered barriers while proving without a doubt that anything is possible”

Chris Nikic is a 21-year-old male from Maitland, Florida.
Chris Nikic is a 21-year-old man with Down syndrome.
Chris Nikic is a 21-year-old Ironman.

Chris Nikic wakes up every day and vows to be 1% better than the day before. Chris new he needed to continue to improve to complete an Ironman and steady, achievable incremental growth was his strategy. An Ironman Challenge includes a 2.4-mile swim in open water, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon (26.2 miles) to be completed in less than 17 hours. Not only was Chris the first individual with Down syndrome to complete the Ironman in the allotted timeframe, he was the first person with Down syndrome to even attempt this challenge.

Chris pinpointed running as his favorite portion of the Ironman Challenge. This is mainly because “it makes my butt look cute and the ladies love it”. Chris felt such a surge of pride around this endeavor
“I can’t wait to crush this Ironman”. Chris worked with his trainer throughout training to prepare for that day. One of the most powerful tools the pair used for the moments of despair, moments of defeat, moments of hurt or moments of struggle was a hug; “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.” It’s important to note that a small percentage of people know what completing an Ironman Challenge feels like. Only one person knows what completing the Ironman Challenge with Down syndrome feels like. Overcoming challenges, shattering barriers and proving the world wrong. Praise and support comes with accountability and pressure. Chris navigated all these factors with an incredible team of support, but his success was derived within himself.

If you have followed along throughout Down syndrome awareness month, you’ve learned that historically individuals with Down syndrome, and their families, are often burdened with information on what they can’t do. During the time leading up to the Ironman competition, Chris’ parents recalled when they were informed their child would be born with Down syndrome. They thought of the doctor who told them all of the things Chris would never be able to do. Chris’s father stated “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, being first opens a lot of doors for him and people like him.” Chris completing the Ironman is the root of inspiration for many; for parents to look at their children and see possibility rather than doubt.

This is not to mean that this is an easy endeavor for Chris. When Chris would become overwhelmed by this undertaking, he would remember his goals, using his dreams to get back on track. The words of others was another significant motivator for Chris. Families and parents of children with Down syndrome outreached Chris leading up to and following this historical event. Parents showed appreciation for Chris and his ability to show them that their children don’t have to be limited, they don’t have to be labeled. Chris was often called a hero to many.

One thing you heard me repeat throughout Down syndrome awareness month that “we’re more alike than different”. Chris is just like every other 21-year-old, he wants a job, a house, a car and a smoking hot blonde wife. Chris’ dad says it’s more of a metaphor and that Chris is looking for a special person in his life, same as you and I.

Chris’ parents have one primary goal for their son….
“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.”

“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory, 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.” – Nik Nikic

“We are beyond inspired, and your accomplishment is a defining moment in Ironman history that can never be taken away from you.”

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