“At the end of this journey is your dream”: Chris Nikic presented the Jimmy V Award after completing his first Ironman

Persistence.

This is one word from the description of the annual Jimmy V Award that stands out for Chris Nikic, the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon.

He receives this award – given each year to a person in the sports world who has overcome major obstacles through perseverance and determination – at the 2021 ESPY Awards on Saturday, a culmination of months – or more like a lifetime – of hard work.

“ESPYS is for perseverance, not for ups and downs or whatever,” he said. “It’s about how I can be a better athlete than before. How can I become a better triathlete? How can I become a better Ironman? The way I overcame these obstacles caused this mentality and I won ESPYS because of the work I have done. “

An Ironman fight is an exhausting fight in itself, but Nikic faced some additional obstacles along the way. During a diet stop, he entered an ant hill. The stings were so bad that his ankles were covered with boils. Then he broke his bike. But he got up, smiled and somehow found a way to continue. While tying his shoe before the run, his father, Nick, gave him advice to keep going.

“Chris, you’re going to have the best course of your life,” Nick said. “At the end of this journey are your dreams.”

In November 2020, after 10 months of training and a possible race cancellation, Chris completed a 2.4-mile dive, an 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon. Cross the finish line in 16 hours, 46 minutes and 9 seconds, 14 minutes below Ironman stop time.

Getting to this point was an uphill climb, starting at birth. He had open heart surgery at the age of 4 months. Down syndrome can cause low muscle tone, ear and hearing problems and mental retardation, to name a few. Chris could not walk until he was 4 years old. he did not learn to ride a bicycle until most teenagers learned to ride.

“It all leads to a point where you struggle to reach the rest of the world, and the rest of the world seems to be accelerating and creating more and more distance between you and them,” Nick said. “Unfortunately, that leads to a life of isolation, one of low expectations and a lack of integration into most of the things that you and I and the rest of us take for granted.”

Nick watched his son emerge from major ear surgeries, falling into this life of isolation. He began to see Chris, who played basketball and golf, grow up, get in shape. This started Chris Ironman’s training and where Dan Grieb got into the picture.

Grieb, an Ironman veteran with more than a dozen fights under his belt, coached Chris. He was there for every training step and ran next to Chris in November.

“From the beginning, it was a fun experience because Chris makes life fun,” Grieb said. “It brings great joy to your life. This was my 17th Ironman event, but this was the most fun, the happiest, because it was not about that. It was to help Chris achieve his goal and pursue his dream. “

Olympic specialist Chris Nikic is being trained to be the first person with Down syndrome to complete Ironman.

To help Chris prepare, Nik found the 1% best philosophy. Chris’s brain processes patterns better, so instead of pushing his limits, the goal was for Chris to be 1% better than the day before.

Chris’s short-term goal was to finish an Ironman, but this fight was also a step towards a life of independence.

“Every time we run another mile, every lap we drive, every lap we swim, it’s one step closer to independence and that really inspired me throughout the training process,” Grieb said.

After finishing Ironman, Chris already has a list of goals he wants to achieve before his 23rd birthday. He and Grieb have already surpassed Ironman Hawaii 70.3 on his list, and Chris released a children’s book in June. There’s still a second book coming in October, a full Ironman in Hawaii in October and the New York City Marathon running, all in less than a year after Chris’ story.

Chris is now a role model, thanks to his athletic success – and passion for life – and he guides other athletes.

“Remember, you have to follow your dream. “Fight the pain, fight every battle,” Chris said.

He then echoed the words of his eponymous ESPY award, “Do not give up. Never dare to give them up. “

Contact Alyssa Hertel at [email protected] or Twitter @AlyssaHertel.

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