Athlete with Down Syndrome First to Complete Ironman Triathlon

Chris Nikic is an amazing athlete. Actually, anyone who can compete in and complete the grueling Ironman Triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, all in under 17 hours is an impressive physical specimen of a person with unbelievable mental toughness to boot.

Not only did 21-year-old Chris complete the Ironman in under 17 hours, but he also became the first such athlete to do so who has Down syndrome (DS), the genetic condition caused by having an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. His remarkable accomplishment resulted in a Guinness World Record.

Chris wasn’t exactly born to compete in sports. One of the characteristics of those born with DS is low muscle tone. At three years old, long after most toddlers are walking and even running on their own, Chris needed a walker to get around.

By his own admission, by 18 Chris was 180 pounds, overweight and out of condition. “If I kept doing what I was doing, today I might be over 200 pounds, sitting on the couch watching video games blaming my low muscle tone,” he wrote on his website,

Instead, Chris decided to do something to change the trajectory of his life. Eighteen months later, he competed in his first triathlon. And then another. And another. With the help of his loving parents and a coach who pushed him, Chris reached his dream and finished the Ironman in 16 hours, 46 minutes.

At one point during the last leg of the grueling race, where Chris slowed to stop as his body resisted the punishment he was putting it through, his family and friends surrounded him and encouraged him on. His father, Nic, hugged him and asked, “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?”

“My dreams are going to win,” Chris told his father. And he started up again slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, until he finished the race.

Chris is interested in motivating others to reach their own dreams. With his 1% Better Challenge, Chris not only raises awareness concerning Down syndrome, but helps to motivate others to reach their goals. He speaks to schools and corporate conferences, including a motivational speech to over 1,000 attendees at a corporate sales conference.

He’s an amazing young man, but what’s even more amazing is that most babies diagnosed in the womb with DS never get a chance at life. Two-thirds of babies in the United States with DS are aborted. In other countries, the rate approaches 100%.

Robyn Chambers is the Executive Director of Advocacy for Children at Focus on the Family. She tells The Daily Citizen that she wept while watching a video of Chris crossing the Ironman finish line.

“What a beautiful way to show that each life has value and can add beauty to our everyday lives,” she said.  “The media attention was amazing, and it can encourage parents of children with a disability.  We need to challenge those precious children and never tell them what they can’t do, but what they are capable of doing!”

Hopefully, Chris’ achievement will motivate not just those of us who want to set and meet seemingly impossible goals, but also encourage parents who learn that their preborn baby has DS not to fear choosing life. Not even a Guinness world record could top that.

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