We spoke with Chris Nikic as he prepares for his first TCS London Marathon
To mark World Down Syndrome Day today (March 21), we spoke to Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon, who will be taking on his first TCS London Marathon on Sunday 23 April.
After completing his Ironman in November 2022, Chris has gone on to become a campaigner for action and increased awareness of the needs of people with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Chris has become an inspiration to many by changing perceptions of what people think is possible for those with IDDs. His mantra of pushing to get ‘one per cent better every-day' has not only helped him to push past his limits but is now a movement that inspires others to do the same.
Here is what Chris had to say when we caught up recently.
What prompted you to start taking part in mass participation events?
I started when I was 18 years old, and my dad said if I did an Ironman and became a public speaker I could achieve my dreams.
What are the biggest challenges currently preventing people with Down syndrome and other Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities participating in physical activity and sport?
Low expectations and being excluded from everything. People don’t think we can or that it’s safe so we get excluded, but that’s not true. We need more time and it’s harder, but we can do it.
What would you like to see change to allow sport to become more inclusive for people with Down syndrome and other IDDs?
Just a chance. Give us a chance. Be patient because it’s harder for us and it takes a little longer. Give us some accommodations like our own category so we all are together but part of the bigger group. Yes, we are slower and have less potential, but as me and my friends are proving, we can do Ironmans and marathons, so we are capable.
Why do you think it is so important to celebrate a World Down Syndrome Day?
It’s one day to raise awareness and ask the world to give us a chance and to see us for who we are. People just like you.
You’ve talked about a lack of sporting role models for people with Down syndrome and other IDDs, has anyone been a particular inspiration to you? Do you have any heroes who have an IDD?
Yes, I have heroes. I saw a video of a girl with Down syndrome who is a gymnast. Her name is Chelsea Werner. When I saw what she could do, I knew I could do more too.
The theme for this year’s World Down Syndrome Day is ‘With us not for us’ – what does that mean to you?
I usually have a guide when I run a marathon. The guide is doing it with me, not for me. The guide is my friend and partner. We can’t achieve our potential if you do it for us. We can only achieve our potential if we do it for ourselves and you stand by our side and do it with us. The thing we need most is someone to do it with us. A friend.
What steps can be taken to ensure people with IDDs can get the right kind of support?
We just need small changes, like having a comfortable place before the start of the event, starting early so we are not stuck on the middle of a big crowd and a guide to be with us during the event.
Your bib number on Marathon Day will be 321 to represent the medical identifier of Down’s syndrome – what does wearing that number on your vest mean to you?
It also means we raise more awareness for Down syndrome so others also know they can do this too.
Have you seen any positive changes towards athletes with IDDs since you started competing? Have you noticed any changes in people’s attitude towards you?
Yes, there are more than 50 athletes in the Florida Special Olympics who are doing triathlons and training for Ironmans and marathons. Now people are seeing us differently, especially since many of the athletes are faster than them.
As a double ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) winner you have reached a pinnacle in sport that few ever will. What do you want people to draw from your achievements?
We learn slower and different. But we can learn and succeed. We have less potential, but by working hard we can succeed. We just need a chance.
In April, you will run the world-famous TCS London Marathon for the first time. Are you looking forward to the occasion? And what are you hoping to achieve?
Yes, I am excited to see a city we only see on TV. I love seeing a city by running 26 miles through it. I love meeting the people and showing them what’s possible. I do these marathons to raise awareness for others like me all over the world to show people we can do it, and we want to be included.
What are your aims going forward and what would you like to see change in the future for people with Down syndrome and other IDDs?
My goal this year is to have every running event in the world create a category for IDD athletes, so we are included. We are calling it Runner 321 for trisomy 21 or Down syndrome to raise awareness. I want to see thousands of IDD athletes running marathons around the world.
Why do you think sport is such a great stage for you to spread your message?
Because sport is where people make friends and have fun together.
Your aims and goals go beyond sports, you are a public speaker and have released a couple of books – can you tell me about those?
Public speaking is how we reach the most amount of people directly in schools, non-profits, and companies. Then the message of inclusion and awareness spreads faster. It’s also a great career.
Will you be doing anything for World Down Syndrome Day?
Yes, I have speeches and interviews and I’m going to an Orlando magic basketball game where they will recognise World Down Syndrome Day.
What advice can you give for anyone with Down syndrome or an IDD looking to get active and start participating in sport?
Just start small and get one per cent better every day and your world will change.