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Athlete becomes first with Down syndrome to complete a full-distance Ironman

Chris Nikic follows "1% Better" mantra to go from one push up to an Ironman

Photo by: Michael Reaves/ Getty Images for Ironman

It all started with one push up.

After his son Chris went through four surgeries, Nik Nikic came up with a strategy to get the then 18 year old moving again. The goal was to become “1% better every day.” Chris started with that one push up. Each and every day he’s added to that and, on Saturday, Chris finished Ironman Florida in 16:46:09, becoming the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full-distance Ironman event. He’s now a record holder in the Guinness World Records.

Photo: Jonathan Bachman/ Getty Images for Ironman

Now 21, the Special Olympics athlete from Maitland, Fla., finished the swim in 1:54:39. During the bike leg he got bitten by fire ants when he stopped for nutrition and cut his leg when he fell, but he got through the bike course in 8:12:37. He then completed the marathon run in 6:18:48.

“To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory. Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion, normalcy, and leadership. It’s about being an example to other kids and families that face similar barriers, proving no dream or goal is too high,” Nik says.

Photo: Michael Reaves/ Getty Images for Ironman

Chris plans on even more in the future.

“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being that has goals and dreams just like everyone else,” says Dan Grieb, Chris’s guide and coach. “He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead.”

Photo: Michael Reaves/ Getty Images for Ironman

“It’s been a privilege to follow Chris’s progress remotely and I’m absolutely overjoyed to see him cross the finish line,” said Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief at Guinness World Records. “The IRONMAN event is a challenge that tests even the most experienced of athletes, so how thrilling it is to see Chris join the ranks of those who can say ‘I did it!’ His dedication and commitment are awe-inspiring, sending a message to everyone that you can achieve your dreams no matter what obstacles you face. It’s an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN, and I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man.”

Nikic raced as a Team Ironman Foundation athlete and, according to Ironman, “has raised nearly to $40,000 to date with 100% of funds going to help causes important to him.”

You can make donations to Nikic’s Ironman Foundation fundraising page here.