An Ironman isn’t a walk in the park for any athlete. A 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike and ending with a marathon, is a long day by anyone’s standards. For Chris Nikic, a 21 year old of huge determination from Maitland, Florida this goal is more impressive than most. Chris has Down syndrome, and what started as a triathlon program with the Special Olympics led him down the path to the 140.6 miles of an Ironman.

On November 7th 2020, Chris became the first person with Down syndrome to start and finish an Ironman race. Ironman broadcast live on Facebook his last few miles of the run. At one point viewers tipped over 22,000 tri-geeks who tuned in to virtually cheer him every last step to the finish line.

One thing that the triathlon community can be proud of is the unending support for everyone on race day. From professional to age grouper, everyone on the course is a champion. Anyone witnessing the finishing chute in the final hour of an Ironman race knows the roar of the crowds as an athlete steps onto the iconic red carpet to hear the words, ‘You are an Ironman.’

Chris Nikic has changed the way people look at Down syndrome forever. He is a true hero!

While the finish line crowds this year were – rightly so – pandemic empty, the online triathlon community was going nuts. As they watched Chris live online, politics were put aside – this was, after all, also the day the election was called. They returned to supporting what is good and real in the world. They supported a young man with a bold dream; one who lives the true meaning of the Ironman tagline, ‘anything is possible.’

Before the race, talking about it would mean for him, Chris looked at they bigger goal than the finish line. β€œ[This race] means I can achieve my dreams and take care of myself,” he says. β€œIt also means I can inspire others like me to go after their dreams.”

After watching Chris in the race, we can all take his lead to set a goal, encourage others and commit to being a 1% better version of ourselves everyday.

Chris Nikic and his guide


In his training life, Chris lives by the mantra of ‘1% Better Everyday’, an attitude we can all live by.

His website features a 1% Better Challenge. To be part, you commit to doing something better every day for 30 days. Then support someone else to do the same. As part of the challenge, the purchase of a t-shirt gives a donation to Ironman Foundation’s ‘Your Journey, Your Cause’ program. This supports the charities Chris is part of: Down Syndrome Awareness, RODS and Special Olympics.

When it comes to Chris’ commitment to the 1% better strategy, here are the six key areas that can lead to success. Note how part of this journey is to focus on others outside of ourselves.

While it’s important to start with our own goals and self assurance, to experience true growth, a wider perspective is where we make the real change.

  • Health – body
  • Health – mind
  • Friends – soul
  • Focus on the positive
  • Help someone else
  • Pass it on


Watch this recap of Chris Nikic’s Ironman Florida journey. He started the day wading into the water on Panama Beach and ended hearing the immortal words from Mike Reilly, ‘Chris Nikic, You. Are. An. Ironman!’