Barriers Broken: Chris Nikic Is the First Person With Down Syndrome to Finish an Ironman

On Nov. 7, 21-year-old Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to attempt and finish an Ironman, swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and completing a full marathon in 16 hours, 46 minutes, and nine seconds. Nikic, a Special Olympics Florida athlete, was alongside guide and coach Dan Grieb, who has raced in 16 Ironmans, according to

Over the past year, Nikic, from Maitland, FL, trained with Grieb, and the initial goal was a half Ironman. When that race was postponed in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he set his sights on the full Panama City Beach Ironman taking place on the weekend following Election Day in the US. During the race on Nov. 7, Nikic was tethered to Grieb for the swimming and running portions.

"From the time he was born, we were told by everyone that he'd never do anything or amount to anything or be able to accomplish anything [beyond] being able to tie his own shoes," Nikic's father told Orlando Sentinel. "And we believed them for the longest time." Nikic underwent open heart surgery at just 5 months old and couldn't walk until he was 4.

However, with his training, Nikic said to Sports Illustrated En Fuego, "I learned that I am willing to work hard and get one percent better every day." He added, "But I also learned that I can get my dream." Next up, he hopes to make history again at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI, in October 2021.

"The opportunities you have created for others around the world through this journey you embarked upon, is immeasurable," Ironman wrote on its Instagram page. "Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your remarkable life story and we can't wait to see what you achieve next." Check out pictures from Nikic's history-making Ironman race ahead.