STILLS FROM A SPECIAL OLYMPICS STORY: CHRIS NIKIC
On November 7, 2020, Chris Nikic crossed the finish line of the Ironman triathlon in Panama City Beach, Florida in 16:46:09 — 14 minutes under the 17-hour cutoff time. But in completing the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, Chris became the first man with Down syndrome to finish an Ironman triathlon. One year prior, he had been unable to do a single push-up.
The documentary A Special Olympics Story: Chris Nikic debuted last week for World Down Syndrome Day and tells the inspirational story of how this Special Olympics Champion Ambassador was able to accomplish this unfathomable feat with a simple mantra: get 1% better everyday.
Chris was introduced to Special Olympics through a golf skills program when he was 9 years old, and soon began participating in other sports like basketball, athletics, and swimming as well. Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and provides training for more than 6 million athletes in more than 190 countries around the globe.
CROSSING THE FINISH LINE OF IRONMAN FLORIDA IN 16:46:09
When Special Olympics Florida introduced triathlon training in 2019, Chris was eager to try it. He immediately took to the sport. His father Nik Nikic, Managing Partner of Sales Optimizer LLC, formulated a training program with Chris’s Unified Partner coach, Dan Grieb. They utilized a 1% Better sales performance tool, and adjusted it for Chris’s exercise to get 1% better, stronger, and faster every day.
In August 2019, Chris completed his first triathlon, a sprint distance (.5 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) in 1:41. He followed that in January 2020 with an Olympic distance triathlon (roughly double the sprint ) in 4:25. In May, he completed a 70.3 Half Ironman in 8:25, leading up to the Ironman 140 that November in 16:46.
Says Nik, “Chris has been the best student I’ve ever had in my life. He just follows the plan to a T”. Chris received a number of prestigious awards in 2021 including the Laureus Sporting Moment of the Year Award and ESPY Award for Best Athlete with a Disability.
AT AGE 3, CHRIS NEEDED A WALKER BECAUSE OF LOW MUSCLE TONE
What is even more incredible about his athletic achievements are the physical limitations of Down syndrome Chris has had to overcome. Low muscle tone is a primary factor. Poor balance is another, which is especially challenging when it comes to riding a bike. It took Chris 6 months just to go fast enough to balance on a bike and ride 100 yards. Slow reaction time is another factor. “When you’re on a bike going 20-25 mph that can be a problem,” says Nik, “but now he goes out on 100 mile rides.”
The 1% Better philosophy is the basis of father and son’s recently published book, 1% Better: Reaching My Full Potential and How You Can Too. Chris has become an in demand keynote speaker with his 1% Better presentation, which has made it possible for other dreams to come true as well. He is able to support himself financially and now owns his own house, his own car, and even has a “hottie girlfriend”.
Chris’s recently finished both the Boston and NYC Marathon at the end of 2021. The 2022 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii is next, notoriously the most grueling Ironman of all. Unfazed, he is not straying from the 1% better training plan. The goal is not just to finish, but to shatter his previous Ironman time and do it in 14 hours. Chris has created a Go Fund Me page for those who wish to support his quest.
As a Special Olympics Champion Ambassador, there is perhaps no better embodiment of what is possible. Beyond actively working to raise awareness and promote inclusion for the Special Olympics community, says Chris, ” I just want to be their hero.”
In reality, Chris is a hero to us all.