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First man with Down syndrome to complete Ironman triathlon inspiring others

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Posted at 3:08 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 15:08:41-05

The first man with Down syndrome to have ever completed an Ironman Triathlon, along with his father, are sharing their powerful keys to success that they believe can unlock potential in anyone.

You've heard it from others. You tell it to yourself. There are so many things you can't do.

When Nik Nikic and his wife Patty first had their son, Chris, that's what they heard too. Doctors explained what life could be like for a person carrying an extra chromosome and told them that their son might never learn to tie his own shoes.

A few years ago, Chris Nikic was 40 pounds heavier and living a rather isolated life. His father suggested something that turned on a light and became the beat of every step forward — get 1% better every day.

They've written about the journey in their book, "1% Better: Reaching My Full Potential and How You Can Too."

"The reason people don't attempt something is because they don't think it's possible," Nik Nikic said.

Everyone faces unique challenges, and how each person responds is different as well.

"Enjoy every day and every moment and create a habit of achievement, one where every day you're winning. And every day matters," Nik Nikic said.

The family realized if Chris Nikic pushed to be slightly better every day while still having fun, the end goal didn't matter as much as the improvement that would come.

The realization of "1% better" propelled the journey beyond their wildest dreams. Chris started working with trainers and guides. The outcome was extraordinary.

In 2020, he became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon. In less than 17 hours, he completed a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

"Like Chris says, his dream was bigger than his pain," said Marquis Johnson, who trains with Chris.

Chris and Johnson joke nonstop.

"I do 12 pull-ups, he does, like, 5 and I say, 'Too soft! Who's next?'" Chris joked.

The family has traveled the country sharing the message of "1% better" at speaking engagements, and they've set new goals for Chris.

"People look at all of that and say, I don't have Down syndrome, I don't have a 70 IQ, I don't have all these physical disabilities, what's my excuse? What can I do with my life?" Nik Nikic said. "And it's not in a bad way; it's in a good way."

Chris is running in marathons across the country. He's consistently working on his golf game, and he's trying to find the woman of his dreams.

"I'm single, adorable, and available, so check me out, ladies," Chris Nikic said.

Chris is like the potential in every person — extraordinary.

"It's humbling when you realize that God has a much bigger plan than you do and a much bigger vision than you do," Nik Nikic said through tears. "It's humbling to see how God is using him to do things we never could have imagined to make a difference in the world, to help people who really don't believe in themselves."

Chris Nikic has changed himself and everyone around him.

"He has a powerful mind," Johnson said.

This story was originally published by Ashleigh Walters on Scripps station WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida.