Chris Nikic becomes first person with Down's syndrome EVER to run all Major Marathons

By Eleonora Pilastro
Chris with his father and cert

Chris Nikic (USA) is a force to be reckoned with.

The runner from Maitland, Florida, is the first person with Down's syndrome to complete all World Marathon Major races, earning his final Six Star medal at the Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan, on 3 March 2024.

In 2020, Chris first made history by completing an IRONMAN triathlon: he was the first ever person with Down's syndrome to do so.

That also marked another historical first: it was the fastest time to complete an IRONMAN® triathlon (II2) (male) in the world.

I wanted to become a world champion - Chris Nikic

Chris and his dad Nik visited the Guinness World Records headquarters in London after the TCS London Marathon 2024 - Chris's favourite marathon event. 

With them was IRONMAN athlete and STEM global ambassador Rhonda Vetere, who accompanied Chris during the race.

"I love running by Buckingham Palace," Chris said after finishing the London Marathon twice.

"My favourite part of the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon was going on a date before and after the races," he continued. "And the landmarks! Everything here is fun." 

Chris's beginning

At the end of his second London Marathon, after completing an IRONMAN triathlon and with his eyes set on an Ultramarathon in the future, it seems almost impossible to believe that Chris didn't use to enjoy running. 

That all changed when Chris's dad, Nik, caught him mid-training and found a way to motivate the teenage athlete. 

"He hated running, so I had to find a way to inspire him," Nik confessed. 

Now, training is both habit and fun for the record holder: Chris runs daily and exercises with his father and his team. 

Striving to improve and encouraging others to push their boundaries, the record holder's success is an inspiration, an amazing journey and "a big team effort". 

Chris with medal and credit

His secret weapon? "You have to work hard but most of all, which is also the best part: eat more rice!"

"After every marathon, he has a bowl of Chipotle," Chris's dad explained.

Other than a passion for Chipotle's rice and determination in spades, Chris balances healthy eating habits with lots of training. 

Chris with certificate

Don't say 'why?' Do it - Chris

During his journey to become "1% better every day," Chris was never alone. 

Other than counting on a big team and fantastic guides such as IRONMAN athlete Rhonda, his dad Nik has been by his side every step of this amazing journey, creating an incredible bond with his son and preparing him for every challenge. 

“The most important part of helping Chris is the mindset," Nik said. 

"Because Chris and others like him have an intellectual impairment, they don't think about things in the same way we do. So the most important thing we can do to help them is to understand what's happening and to understand how the training helps them."

It's also important to understand how the training helps their goals and their dreams in life - Nik

Chris and his dad

Behind the records

But success is not only measured in medals and record-breaking achievements: it's about spreading an important, much-needed message of inclusivity. 

Today, Chris is a fully-fledged athlete and an inspirational speaker, and his story encourages all his friends to take on new challenges and push their boundaries. 

"It feels good to inspire my friends," he said. 

"They were a bit shocked in the beginning when they heard about my record, but they were all inspired."

"Chris's major success in his life is about how many people he inspires," Nik said. "How many people change their lives as a result of seeing him, and then believing in their own abilities to achieve greatness." 

However, Chris's feats and worldwide recognition are also helping a much-needed conversation on inclusivity in sports. 

"We have found enormous resistance in the world of sport," Chris's father reiterated, highlighting the lack of diversity in the community. "Months of fighting and negotiations just to allow Chris to run in the IRONMAN."

Do you know that there is no category, anywhere in marathons, for people with an intellectual impairment? There's a category for everything except hundreds of millions of people like Chris - Nik

Chris and Rhonda at London Marathon

"Currently everything is a fight," Nik went on. 

Although in the past two years, marathons have created a category for people with intellectual impairment, Nik stressed the importance of creating a more inclusive environment: right now, the barriers to qualifying make marathon events almost inaccessible for the vast majority of athletes like Chris.

"We need more people and powerful organizations to ask the question: how is it that, in 2024, a person with an intellectual impairment is being viewed as less than human? Why can't they even be included as a category, unlike every other human on earth?"

"People think it's a small group," Nik said, "but it's the biggest minority group in the world." 

Chris's guide Rhonda also stressed the need for change: "There are a lot of emotions because it's not fair. These guys are not just out there running, they are doing more than that." 

It's not just fun: we are making a change in the world and we are dedicated to it - Rhonda Vetere

Nik and Chris also have an ambitious project for the future: an "academy after high school" for kids with intellectual impairments in Orlando, Florida.

"When our kids graduate after 18, they don't have a place to go to continue their education," Nik explains, having experienced first-hand the challenges that society presents to individuals with intellectual impairment and their families. 

That is a significant gap that the Nikic family aims to address by opening an academy that will "link sports and education together, and it's going to teach them all the life lessons they need to learn."

"We are starting with a 20-person pilot in Orlando this year," Nik explained.

Completing the IRONMAN

Chris’s resilience and determination have already won him plenty of running successes and, in 2020, he broke his very first world record.

After facing plenty of difficulties and conquering the IRONMAN triathlon race at Panama City Beach, Florida, USA, on 7 November 2020, Chris became the first person with Down's syndrome to complete an IRONMAN® triathlon.

At the time, he was 21 years old.

During the gargantuan competition, Chris had 17 hours in which to complete a 3.8-km (2.4-mile) swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a 180-km (112-mile) bicycle ride through Panama City Beach and a full 42.1-km (26.2-mile) marathon run along the beach front.

Chris completed the feat with an unprecedented time of 16 hours 46 minutes 9 seconds - the fastest ever for his category.

By conquering that challenge, Chris became the first person with Down's syndrome to complete an IRONMAN® triathlon

We certainly can't wait to see what more records Chris will smash next: the young athlete has a few marathons in his immediate bucket list, but his eyes are set on an ultramarathon next. 

"If anybody in the world can do it, it's Chris," Nik concluded to the GWR microphones.

The ultramarathon is the challenge I look forward to the most. Stay tuned! - Chris

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