Orlando athlete becomes first person with Down syndrome to complete Ironman World Championship

When Chris Nikic was born, there was a barrage of people telling his dad Nik what Chris wasn't going to be able to do in his life.

"Quite honestly for those of us who have a child with Down syndrome, we feel the same way at the beginning," said Nik Nikic, Chris' father. "We're devastated. And you know we don't quite know what to do. We go through a mourning period for a while, until we gather ourselves up and say 'ok, this is what god gave us, let's go figure out how we-what we do and how we help them to live the fullest, richest life possible. And that's how we started with Chris."

After being excluded from schools, and activities, Chris and Nik eventually found Triathlon. A discovery that would end up changing their lives.

"So it was kinda perfect. It was an environment where there were lots of people having fun. And he could do something on his own. And then people embraced him in that environment," said Nik. "They loved him, they hugged him, they were amazed by him attempting to do that. He loved that about it, and that's what kept him in, and that's what kept him working hard."

Chris and Nik developed a mantra "get one percent better" daily. And Chris did. Eventually getting strong enough to finish the Florida Ironman despite a bike accident and stepping into a fire ant nest during the race.

"I knew that I was pushing myself to my limits," said Chris Nikic.

That led to earlier this month in Hawaii. Where Chris became the first person with down syndrome to finish an Ironman World Championship.

Nik said, "It was one of the most peaceful feelings in the world because for the last year, he had been training so hard. And you know so many things could go wrong. Five thousand people show up at Ironman Hawaii. All qualified. All at the top of their game. One thousand of them don't finish. And so for Chris to finish, is a miracle in itself."

"The hardest part was you know, the bike," said Ironman World Champion Chris Nikic. "Because it's like, constant speed, constant fast fast fast." Chris says the Marathon portion was the easiest for him.

Maybe made easier by the fact that Chris' girlfriend was at the finish line waiting for him. Where he gave her a promise ring with hopes to get engaged someday.

As for what comes next, yes, there's definitely an element of enjoying having proved all the doubters wrong, but for Chris and Nik, it goes beyond that."

"I think he's proving to our whole down syndrome community the perception is wrong," said Nik. "The approach we use to educate and develop our children is wrong. If we modify that approach, we're gonna give our kids a chance to do amazing things.

Chris said, "I'm trying to show them that the message would be ‘just keep going.’ Whatever's going on just know that if they're willing to get one percent better if they're willing to push themselves. It's about them having fun and being in the moment."