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Chris Nikic becomes first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon: What’s your goal today?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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The same triathlete is shown three times: once running out of the ocean, once riding a bike, and once running on pavement
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An Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. For most people, the prospect of completing just one of those three stages probably seems intimidating. The idea of completing all of them, and in under seventeen hours no less, just seems impossible. 

But, as Kate Santich describes, Chris Nikic is no ordinary person

On Sunday, November 8, 2020, Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete the race, crossing the finish line in 16 hours, 46 minutes, and 9 seconds. 

As he stated after the race was over, “The doctors and experts said I couldn’t do anything. So I said, ‘Doctor! Experts! You need to stop doing this to me. You’re wrong!'”

His father, Nik, echoed those sentiments: “From the time he was born, we were told by everyone that he’d never do anything or amount to anything or be able to accomplish anything [beyond] being able to tie his own shoes. And we believed them for the longest time.”

Much of their lives in the years since, however, has been dedicated to proving them wrong.

One of the more important steps in that journey came when Nik gave his son a piece of paper and asked that he write down his goals for life. Chris responded that he wants his own house, his own car, and to marry “a smokin’ hot blonde from Minnesota like my mom.” 

Chris’ training for the Ironman has been a crucial part of that process in that it helped him learn to set daily goals and push himself incrementally to achieve them. 

As one might expect, the path was far from easy, and Chris’ condition made learning to ride a bike especially difficult. But he persevered through it all. With the help of people like Dan Grieb, an Ironman veteran with whom the Special Olympics connected Chris, Nikic achieved his goal and inspired countless others to accomplish their own. 

While Nik is an understandably proud father, he finds the most joy in the sense of community Chris has been able to find as a result of the process. 

As Nik describes, “Kids with Down syndrome, typically, when they graduate from high school, they start living a life of isolation . . . But Chris now trains six, seven days a week with friends. He goes and meets them at the lake, he goes to the track and runs with them . . . and they invite him to their homes. The greatest gift that Chris has gotten in all this is the gift of belonging.” 

Give the gift of belonging

While we may never complete a triathlon, all of us have the capacity to offer that “gift of belonging” to others. 

Although such a gift may look different during a pandemic, it’s seldom been more important or more needed. 

Being part of God’s family is one of the most common illustrations used in the New Testament to express what it means to be a Christian (John 1:12–13). When we share the gospel with others, we are also sharing the opportunity to have a sense of belonging that stretches around the world and across human existence. 

But the message that you can be part of God’s family will ring hollow if God’s family doesn’t look like a place people want to be. 

So, as we prepare to go through the day, let’s make it a point to model the character of Christ in our interactions with others and to be as welcoming to them as God has been to us. 

That’s a goal all of us can achieve today. 

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