“One percent — stick with that goal,” Chris says. “If you stick with that goal, you can succeed and be a successful person.”
According to his mother, Trish Nickic, from birth, Chris faced many cognitive, physical and sensory challenges. He had open-heart surgery at the age of five months and years of therapy to help with things like eating, speaking, and balance.
However, perhaps the biggest obstacle he faced was how others perceived him.
“People treated me differently,” Chris recalls. “They were telling me I can’t or won’t do this.”
When Chris was eight years old, he and his family found a supportive and welcoming community at Special Olympics Florida. Inspired by his athletic older sister, Chris eagerly took up sports like basketball, golf and track.
His real benefits for the growing boy went beyond exercise. “Athletics gave him the opportunity to be socially involved with others,” says Chris’s father, Nick Nick.
As Chris got older, he became more and more sedentary while recovering from a series of ear surgeries. After Special Olympics Florida launched its triathlon program in 2018, Chris’s parents encouraged him to try it out to get in shape and have fun.
“The first time he sprinted with Special Olympics, he came last,” says Trish. “But you know what? Chris was happy.”
Chris soon overhauled his first triathlon coach. Dan Gribb, the captain of a local triathlon club, came in to help take Chris to the next level. In a year and a half of training, Chris went from couch to sprint 14-mile triathlon.
no road map
Ironman triathlons are some of the most challenging sporting events on Earth. In addition to those grueling distances, there is also a time cutoff – 17 hours – which became Chris’ next unprecedented target.
“There’s no road map with Chris,” Gribb says. “A Down syndrome athlete has never attempted a 17-hour run that involves biking, swimming and sprinting, so we didn’t know what to expect.”
According to Gribb, race day started off as normal. He felt confident about his contingency plans for “everything” in case of an emergency—until he hit the cycling portion of the race. During the nutrition stop, Chris accidentally ran into an ant pile and suffered hundreds of bites. Further on the course, Chris flew downhill too fast, hit a bump in the road, and crashed.
Gribb feared the most. Accidents at that speed often result in fractures, head injuries, or even hospitalization.
“I turn around and Chris is already jumping up and down,” Gribb recalls. “It’s the opposite reaction I’m drawn to… He’s excited that he’s crashed and wants to get back on his bike and get off again!”
Near midnight, about 140 miles away, Chris was exhausted. He had come this far. And the time was almost over.
“Chris’ whole life has been told he won’t pay much,” Gribb says. “I Received To get him across the finish line.”
And so he pushed.
Between bright lights, cameras, cheers and tears, Chris crossed the finish line in sixteen hours, 46 minutes and nine seconds.
But his parents say that one honor — being named a Special Olympics champion ambassador — is most meaningful.
“In our minds, the most important thing he could do is be a representative for the Special Olympics and continue to inspire others around the world,” Nick says. “And that’s opening all kinds of doors for him.”
In doing so, Chris has also opened the door for many others, according to Sherri Whitlock, CEO and President of Special Olympics Florida. The number of athletes participating in the non-profit triathlon program has more than doubled, and the organization has seen an increase in interest in “integrated partners,” or volunteers with intellectual disabilities who train and compete with Special Olympics athletes.
The Florida chapter is also set to host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, where triathlons will be included for the first time. Whitlock credits the attention Chris brought to the sport, and she’s also working to incorporate her “1 percent better” methodology among Special Olympics Florida coaches and training staff.
“Many of our athletes have tremendous potential, so I’m really just inspired by how it elevates everyone’s sport to the next level,” Whitlock says.
Chris’ coach Dan Gribb agrees.
“Let them compete to the limit of their ability,” he says. But don’t decide what their potential is.” “What would it be like if we gave more people like Chris a chance to break into this world?”
Credit : www.cnn.com