PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Thousands of people from around the world watched the Ironman Florida livestream Saturday night to see Chris Nikic make history.
With a time of 16 hours, 46 minutes and nine seconds, he became the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete a full Ironman triathlon.
The 21-year-old from Maitland, Florida, had three words on his mind Sunday morning.
“I’m an IRONMAN,” Nikic said.
It wasn’t an easy day for him. Nikic crashed his bike and was bitten by fire ants before the marathon portion of the race, but it didn’t stop him from achieving his goal.
“I decided to get back up and fight my way through,” Nikic said.
He battled his way to the end alongside his coach and guide Dan Grieb, who said it was an honor to bring Nikic all the way to the finish line.
“I told his Dad, ‘You’ve done an amazing job raising your son for 21 years. Let me take him for the next 17 hours and I’ll return to you an Ironman’ and I was happy and honored to keep my promise,” Grieb said.
For Nikic, it wasn’t all about the time on the clock or even becoming an Ironman. It was to show others like him that anything is possible.
“You have to stay fit, stay strong, be confident. That moment when you cross the finish line, you’ll say ‘I’m like Chris Nikic,'” Nikic said.
After being told by doctors that the simplest tasks would be difficult for him, he conquered what many consider to be the most difficult triathlon in the world.
“You don’t see before you today a young man with Down syndrome,” Grieb said. “You see before you an Ironman.”