chris nikic
Chris Nikic aims to expand inclusion in sports for those with Down syndrome; (photo/adidas)

Chris Nikic Breaks Barrier With IRONMAN Hawaii Finish

Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete IRONMAN Hawaii this weekend. Try and watch him finish without getting emotional (especially once he pulls out the engagement ring).

Sports history offers many tear-jerking finish-line moments, but Chris Nikic’s completion of IRONMAN Kona this weekend ranks among the very best.

Two years ago, Nikic became the first athlete with Down syndrome to finish an IRONMAN. On Saturday, he did it again — and celebrated the win by pulling out a ring and getting engaged to his girlfriend.

“Changing the perception for every parent worldwide,” the announcer says as Nikic pulls his father into an embrace — and then refuses to let go. “Now they all know what’s possible for their children.”

The 23-year-old finished the event with a time of 16 hours, 31 minutes, and 27 seconds. That’s not far behind the average finish time for an IRONMAN, which is about 13 hours.

Nikic received the invitation to IRONMAN Kona after finishing the Florida IRONMAN, according to his website. With a mission to promote inclusion and an adidas sponsorship already in the bag, it seems clear that Nikic’s profile will continue to rise.

Aiming for 1% Better

In just a few years, Nikic has racked up quite a few accomplishments. He finished an Olympic triathlon, the New York Marathon, and the Boston Marathon — twice.

However, Nikic wants to do much more than run. He’s working toward a world where more people with Down syndrome feel welcome in sports. That starts with improving inclusion so they know what’s possible, he said.

“I rarely saw anyone who looks like me in mainstream sports. And now, we’re changing that,” Nikic says in a video produced by adidas. “Running changed my life, but now I want everyone like me to see it’s possible for them, too.”

With adidas, Nikic launched the Runner321 initiative, which wants to reserve that jersey number for a Down syndrome runner in every race.

The number 321 carries special significance for those with Down syndrome. This genetic disorder results from people with trisomy 21 — meaning they’re born with one extra chromosome. While most people have two copies of the 21st chromosome, those with Down syndrome have three. That’s why World Down Syndrome Day happens on March 21.

But Nikic also has his own numerical inspiration. An author and public speaker, he published a book called “1% Better,” reflecting his philosophy to focus on self-improvement in small increments.

“I want to change the perceptions and raise expectations for others like me so we can reach our God-given potential,” Nikic writes on his website.

Watch more of Chris Nikic on his Instagram.

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Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, which he uses as a home base for adventures throughout the Americas. When he's not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he's hanging out with his dog Campana.