1% BETTER EVERY DAY | Global Down Syndrome Foundation

1% BETTER EVERY DAY

From Down Syndrome WorldTM 2021 Issue 1 of 4

WITH IRON WILL & DETERMINATION, FLORIDA ATHLETE MAKES HISTORY


This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read all the articles and get future issues delivered to your door!

WHEN MANY OF US HEAR THE WORDS “IRON MAN,” we might think of the rich Marvel hero in a flying suit. For the 21-year-old athlete, Chris Nikic, “Iron Man” means he can do anything he sets his mind to. In November of 2020, Chris became
the first individual with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon competition, earning him a coveted spot as a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® holder as ‘First person with Down’s syndrome to complete an IRONMAN® triathlon.’

The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.22-mile run. In the world of triathlons, this is considered to be one of the most challenging one-day events. Chris made history by competing in and finishing the race, and serves as an inspiration to the Down syndrome community and the world.

An ambitious attitude, drive, and family support have been the driving forces to propel Chris to new and more extraordinary accomplishments.

“I want to be a world champ at something!” Chris added to his list of New Years’ Eve goals in 2018.

Chris and his father Nik did research and some soul searching to determine that the Ironman triathlon was the way Chris would accomplish that. Nik, who is also an athlete, was ready to train for, and compete in, the triathlon with his son.

Nik made sure Chris was ready to put in the work. “I told him, if you sit on the couch playing video games, you will never get your dreams,” says Nik. “But if you work hard to accomplish your goals, you can do an Ironman and become a motivational speaker.”

After Chris set his intention to compete in Ironman, there was no stopping him. Little did he know what would continue to unfold after successfully completing this intense race.

A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

Chris trains with the mindset of becoming 1 percent better every day. “I built my core 1% at a time. A year ago, I started by doing one push up, one sit up, and one squat. Then every few days, I did a little more,” Chris tells. “Eventu ally, before Ironman, I was doing 200 of each plus weights, pull-ups, and other strength exercises.”

Chris trains from 3 to 8 eight hours per day, with some stretching and recovery in between. He runs, bikes, swims, and completes strength training four times a week. On the weekends, training is kicked into even higher gear, “I’ll put in 6-8 hours of training each day when I do my 100-mile bike rides, and 18-mile runs.”

Chris’ training is not just physical. His dedication requires a lot of mental strength training too. Chris maintains that anything is possible as long as he can get 1 percent better each day. This mentality helps him stay focused and enjo y his training more.

If Ironman training wasn’t already hard enough, Chris had t o deal with the threat of COVID-19. He admits that training during an unprecedented worldwide pandemic was more challenging, but he wasn’t going to let that get in hi s way. “There were no gyms to work out in, no lakes to swim or bike trails to ride on,” Chris explains. “So we found ways to train in my home, pool, and neighborhood. It was much harder and less fun, but we found a way to do it anyway.”

THE FOUNDATION OF COMMUNITY

Throughout his training process, Chris had great support from h is family, friends, and community organizations.

Chris and his dad Nik started with intensive training sessions, but when Nik got injured, he decided he was not going to compete in the race and shifted his efforts to being the best coach and cheerleader for Chris.

“Some days, it felt too hard, and I felt like I couldn’t do it,” Chris recalls. “But my dad kept reminding me of my dreams and how important it is to fight for your dreams.”

Chris joined a triathlon club and was paired with a special training coach through the Special Olympics. “My guides at Special Olympics, Simone and Dan, made it fun and helped me through my journey to compete,” Chris tells. “My family and friends were there every step of the way. I thank God for all the special angels he brought into my life.”

“Watching Chris cross that finish line with a huge smile on his face was a moment I will never forget,” says Patty, Chris’ mother. “Seeing your child accomplish something they have worked so hard for is something every parent dreams
of experiencing.”

Chris’ impressive athletic accomplishments have been recognized around the world. His story was featured in national media everywhere including outlets like ESPN, New York Times, Today Show, CNN, NBC, Sports Illustrated, and more.

Special Olympics named Chris a Champion Ambassador, invited him to compete in the USA games, and honored him with the Florida Hero award where he met the state’s governor Ron DeSantis. Ironman gave him the title of Global Ambassador and invited him to Hawaii for the next Ironman competition.

When asked how all of this feels, Chris responded with a simple “I am living my dream.”

HIS SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR THE WORLD

“People have been telling us our whole lives what we can’t do,” says Chris. “And I want to tell you to stop listening to those opinions because they are wrong. We are capable of so much more. Yes, we have disabilities, but we also have big abilities.”

Chris wants to share his experiences and message with the world. He is working on publishing a book this year and he has secured several public speaking events with companies like Dell and Microsoft.
To encourage other athletes in his community, Chris has also launched his own “1% Better Challenge” to promote Down syndrome awareness. The process is simple. Partner up with a sponsor (friend, family, coach), set a 30-day goal you want to achieve, and post your progress with your partner on social media.

“I want to inspire others the way that my community has inspired me. The inclusion revolution is real! Nothing is too big to accomplish or too challenging to do if you commit to being 1% percent better every day.”


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