Chris Nikic, who has Down syndrome, appeared in a 2022 Adidas marketing campaign calling for marathons to avoid wasting the bib quantity 321 for neurodivergent runners. (Adidas)
DENVER — The primary particular person with Down syndrome to finish an Ironman Triathlon begins a speech by introducing himself as somebody who was chubby and off form 5 years in the past with no job, no girlfriend, “no future” and a life that made him really feel excluded, remoted and alone.
However, Chris Nikic says, the motivation he utilized to triathlon and marathon coaching helped him set large objectives and notice exceptional goals.
“I’m an Ironman, ESPY winner, public speaker, writer and Adidas (sponsored) athlete,” Nikic mentioned final week on the annual Operating USA Business Convention in Denver. “I’ve run the Boston, New York Metropolis and Disney marathons as a Particular Olympics ambassador. And, as you’ll be able to see, I’m lovely — single, however not out there.”
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The 23-year-old Floridian has a girlfriend whom he describes as a “smoking sizzling blonde like my mother.” His father, Nik, absolutely expects Chris to marry her within the subsequent couple of years.
“I nonetheless get emotional as a result of it’s exhausting to consider what he’s completed, the distinction in his life in comparison with what it was 5 years in the past, and the influence that may have on different dad and mom like me and my spouse and their youngsters,” Nik Nikic mentioned. “How will you not get emotional about how life can change once you give these children an opportunity to be a part of the neighborhood?”
In 2020, Nikic accomplished an Olympic distance triathlon (32 miles), a Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and a full Ironman. Final October, he competed within the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, the last word occasion within the sport. With a swim of two.4 miles, a motorcycle journey of 112 miles and a marathon run (26.2 miles), Nikic completed in 16 hours, 31 minutes on his twenty third birthday.
It additionally occurred throughout Down syndrome consciousness month.
“Chris all the time leans on his goals to get there. However after he did his first Ironman, and began studying all of the social media feedback from mothers and dads, and the way a lot of an influence he’s made on their lives, he developed a good stronger dream — one which goes past him, which is to make a distinction in folks’s lives.”
Chris and his father didn’t come to the Operating USA convention merely to share an inspirational story. They challenged race administrators to create a particular aggressive class of their occasions for neurodivergent athletes.
Most individuals are born with 23 units of paired chromosomes, one from every father or mother. However with Down syndrome, also referred to as Trisomy 21, there’s a 3rd chromosome at place No. 21. Primarily based on that, Nikic will run the Chicago Marathon subsequent fall with bib quantity 321 to unfold consciousness, and he hopes to run it in 3 hours, 21 minutes or much less.
After he spoke Tuesday, dozens of race officers expressed an curiosity in together with a “Runner 321” class at future occasions.
“My goal,” he mentioned, “is to encourage you to create a Runner 321 class in each operating occasion on the planet.”
Nikic had open coronary heart surgical procedure when he was an toddler. When he was 12, his neck was too weak for rides at Disney World, which is a couple of half-hour drive from his dwelling in Maitland, Fla. When he was 17, he had 4 main ear surgical procedures.
“After 4 ear surgical procedures, I gained 40 kilos, and I used to be in unhealthy form,” Nikic mentioned. “We set a aim to do an Ironman. The issue was, I liked golf and basketball however not swimming, biking and operating. Aside from that, I used to be nice for an Ironman.”
Together with his father’s teaching, he started by writing down his goals and setting objectives to get 1% higher every day. On day one in every of his coaching routine, he did one push-up, one sit-up and one squat. When he did his first Ironman, he may do 200. Now, he says, he can do 430.
He wrote down different goals: to make cash so he may purchase his personal home and automobile. He needs to marry his girlfriend, Adrienne Bunn, and purchase her a ranch with two horses, two canine and a peacock. He has given her a “promise ring.” She mentioned “sure.”
His father is satisfied coaching for triathlons and marathons has helped Chris in different areas of his life.
“Cognitively he’s enhancing and bodily he’s enhancing,” Nik Nikic mentioned. “His thoughts is getting sharper, he’s making higher selections.”
He’s planning on doing the Tokyo Marathon in March, the London Marathon in April, the Berlin Marathon in September and the Chicago Marathon in October. All the time the aim is to encourage different neurodivergent folks whereas spreading the message of inclusion.
“It’s very troublesome and heartbreaking when you concentrate on all the youngsters who get excluded,” Nik Nikic mentioned. “There have been all the time the cool children and the youngsters who received excluded. However with Down syndrome, it’s much more extreme as a result of their speech is sluggish, their considering and decision-making is sluggish, their bodily skill to maintain up is sluggish. It turns into a simple differentiator to get them excluded, so that they don’t get invited to events, they don’t get invited to the Friday night time motion pictures, they don’t get invited to sports activities, so that they find yourself staying dwelling by themselves enjoying video video games. As they get to 18 and 19, when all people else goes to varsity or will get a job, they usually keep dwelling, life actually turns into devastating.”
Tears kind usually in Nik’s eyes as he relates his son’s story.
“He makes me cry day-after-day,” Nik confesses.
Close by, Chris overhears and teases his father: “Stop crying, Dad.”
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