Chris Nikic takes on 2 marathons this fall, inspiring the Down’s syndrome community and beyond
You may know Chris Nikic as the first person with Down’s syndrome to complete an Ironman, which he did last November; or the recipient of the Jimmy V Award at ESPY 2021; or, and more recently, the co-author of 1% better: reaching my full potential and how you can too. Some people know him simply as Chris, the always-smiling 22-year-old athlete who loves (and I mean love) Chipotle.
When POPSUGAR sat down for a video call with Nikic and his father, Nik, in August, Nikic was preparing for the 2021 Ironman World Championship as well as the New York Marathon. The first of two, in St. George, UT, has been postponed from this month until next May, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nikic is now training for the Boston Marathon on October 11 and the New York Marathon on November 7. In addition to the postponed 2021 Championship, the 2022 Ironman World Championship is scheduled to take place in Kailua-Kona, HI, next October. According to an Ironman spokesperson, “the process of selecting athletes to choose which event they will participate in is underway,” and Nikic has yet to make an official decision.
With all the recognition Nikic has received in the past year alone, he wants other people with Down syndrome to believe that they too can strive to achieve whatever they are putting their energy into. This is where his motto “1% better” comes from: work slowly and with persistence until you get better, one percent at a time, one percent at a time.
Nikic is looking forward to these marathons – running is his favorite part of triathlons – but he is also very excited for the post-race celebrations. (In his mind, that will include “clubbing and drinking champagne” plus Chipotle, and we don’t blame him!) “Chris Nikic is coming to town.” Can we also suggest “Chris, you have this!” with a burrito bowl designed for good measure.
In the New York Marathon in particular, he will run alongside a team from the nonprofit KultureCity, in which one of his good friends with autism, Rachel Barcellona, is involved. He wants to support her and others like her. The charity focuses on “sensory accessibility and inclusion of people with invisible disabilities” such as autism, PTSD and dementia.
Related: Amy Bockerstette Is The First Athlete With Down Syndrome To Compete In A National College Championship
Nikic aims to finish a marathon in 3 hours and 21 minutes (he first said Men’s health that this summer); 3:21 represents the extra copy of chromosome 21, called trisomy 21 – three separate copies of chromosome 21 instead of two – that causes 95 percent of cases of Down syndrome. His father says that while it’s an ambitious goal for this year’s marathon season, it might be achievable next year.
“We want the kids to really admire me,” Nikic said, adding, “not only do I do the job, but I do it for the kids.” He wants to eventually open his own gym, where athletes, whatever their level, can come and train. He aims to teach them his “1% system”, to continue to “spread the word” and to inspire “the entire Down syndrome community behind the scenes.”
Nik pointed out that following Nikic’s historic Ironman competition, Nikic and his teammates from the Special Olympics Florida unified triathlon team were invited to the 2022 US Special Olympics. They are the first team to receive an award. invitation to participate in these Games, and Nik noted that the group is made up of about 80 percent of people with autism and about 20 percent of people with Down syndrome. “These are 20 young people who would never have had the opportunity to do what they do and experience something like the USA Games,” said Nik.
“He pushed me to think bigger. To broaden my thinking beyond what I thought was possible.”
Nik witnessed his son’s growing influence with every race, public speaking and interview opportunity, and he said Nikic taught him “that we are aiming too low.” That we need to believe more in ourselves and in our abilities to do more. He continued, “And he pushed me to think bigger, to broaden my thinking beyond what I thought possible, because you can’t watch him make the kind of breakthroughs he’s making and the the way he works and the way he does everything. . . . you can’t do that without looking at yourself and saying, “What more can I do? “”
Nik describes Nikic as someone who sets an example “and creates an opportunity for others to follow so that they can realize their potential”. It is through this example, said Nik, that his son “can inspire others like him, but he can also inspire others like me and you.”