You are currently viewing Chevrolet.com (United States). Close this window to stay here or choose another country to see vehicles and services specific to your location.

CHRIS NIKIC,
WORLD CHAMP

An athlete’s belief in continuous
improvement in 1% increments
led to him becoming an
IRONMAN® athlete — and a leader.

CHRIS NIKIC,
WORLD CHAMP

An athlete’s belief in continuous
improvement in 1% increments
led to him becoming an
IRONMAN® athlete — and a leader.

An athlete’s belief in continuous
improvement in 1% increments
led to him becoming an
IRONMAN® athlete — and a leader.

2023-04-05 | New Roads Magazine

The headlights of Chris Nikic’s Chevrolet Suburban caught the glistening dew-soaked grass as his vehicle joined a dozen others in Lucky Meisenheimer’s front yard, their occupants all there for the same reason: an early swim in Lake Cane.

It was September of 2022. Two days earlier, Chris had been walking a runway at New York Fashion Week. Now, he meandered down a Central Florida driveway at 6 a.m. on his way toward the water. This walk had become familiar for him — he was doing it four to five times a week in preparation for the 2022 IRONMAN World Championship, held in Kailua-Kona the following month.

Illuminated by dawn’s first light, Chris prepped for his workout as buoys pulled by other swimmers bobbed across the lake’s surface. Many would complete the 1,000-meter roundtrip known as Lucky’s Lake Swim and earn the honor of adding their signature to the thousands that already blanketed the side of Lucky’s house. Chris did that the first time he finished the swim in 2019, writing, “Chris World Champ.” He can’t quite remember why he added “World Champ,” but he immediately set about earning his self-declared title.

In November 2020 in Panama City Beach, Florida, Chris became the first person with Down syndrome to finish an IRONMAN triathlon race — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. So much of his story follows from that. There are the multiple ESPY awards and a sponsorship with a major athletic brand. He bought his Suburban. He became a motivational speaker, wrote a book, and tied it all to his 1% Better Foundation, its name based on his philosophy of continuously making small improvements to achieve his goals. And he’s far from finished.

“I just keep getting better every day,” Chris says. “There are new goals and dreams to go after.”

Those goals and dreams are pinned on the walls of his bedroom, serving to remind him of why he does what he does. When one is reached, it’s time to set another.  

FINDING STRENGTH

Chris’s journey to becoming an IRONMAN athlete began when he and his father, Nik Nikic, found themselves badly out of shape. The triathlons got longer and longer, and in late 2020, Chris finished his first IRONMAN triathlon race in 16 hours and 46 minutes.

A COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

“I beat your ass every damn day,” Chris told his friend and training partner, Marquis Johnson, with a smile. Chris did just that when they did a 115-mile bike ride in his neighborhood. Chris described that workout as “Pain, everywhere.”

STEADY IMPROVEMENT

Repetition is the key to getting just a little better each day. Today, Chris can get on and off his bike with relative ease. But that was only after practicing it hundreds of times. Even a month before his big race, he was still practicing.

I JUST KEEP GETTING BETTER EVERY DAY. THERE ARE NEW GOALS AND DREAMS TO GO AFTER.

— CHRIS NIKIC

I JUST KEEP GETTING BETTER EVERY DAY. THERE ARE NEW GOALS AND DREAMS TO GO AFTER.

— CHRIS NIKIC

FINDING COMMUNITY

If competing began as a way to get some exercise, it became much more than that. Joining hundreds of other athletes in races meant finding a community and a sense of belonging.

FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS

In the water, if Chris needs to improve his breathing and kicking techniques, he has to focus on just one at a time. Each movement is broken down into small pieces and each is practiced on its own for a week or so. At that point, the next piece can be added in.

FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS

In the water, if Chris needs to improve his breathing and kicking techniques, he has to focus on just one at a time. Each movement is broken down into small pieces and each is practiced on its own for a week or so. At that point, the next piece can be added in.

FATHER AND SON
To give Chris the instruction he needs, Nik became his coach, adapting his training as necessary. On the stationary bike, Nik will stand behind Chris, pushing down on his thighs. Without feeling his legs going faster, Chris would struggle to pedal faster on his own.

TRAINING OF CHAMPIONS

Chris’s training — up to eight hours a day — was often grueling. But his commitment to it and improving that little bit each day earned him a finish at the IRONMAN World Championship at 23 years old, becoming the first person with Down syndrome to do so.

TRAINING OF CHAMPIONS

Chris’s training — up to eight hours a day — was often grueling. But his commitment to it and improving that little bit each day earned him a finish at the IRONMAN World Championship at 23 years old, becoming the first person with Down syndrome to do so.

MY WORKOUTS ARE DESIGNED AROUND THE 1% BETTER STRATEGY AND DESIGNED TO BUILD A MINDSET THAT NEVER QUITS.

— CHRIS NIKIC

FINDING A PLACE FOR HIMSELF

In many ways, Chris has had to carve out a spot for himself in the triathlete community, which wasn’t built for people with disabilities. A custom-made bike and shoes alleviated many physical challenges, and he found support in a coach who learned how to work effectively with him.

BECOMING WORLD CHAMP

Between his first IRONMAN race in 2020 and his latest finish in 2022, Chris has gained countless accolades, and along the way he checked off the goals and dreams listed on the dream board in his bedroom.

BECOMING WORLD CHAMP

Between his first IRONMAN race in 2020 and his latest finish in 2022, Chris has gained countless accolades, and along the way he checked off the goals and dreams listed on the dream board in his bedroom.

STORY: COLIN BERESFORD / PHOTOGRAPHER: JOSE MANDOJANA

*The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price excludes destination freight charge, tax, title, license, dealer fees and optional equipment. Click here to see all Chevrolet vehicles' destination freight charges.