WHO - International Day of Persons with Disability 2020

‘A day for all’

Today, 3 December 2020, is Disability Awareness Day and an opportunity to share a positive uplifting story.

Chris Nikic had been pushing through the gruelling race for more than 13 hours. It suddenly became too much. In the hot, humid air, he struggled to breathe. His feet burned as they pounded the pavement, his legs felt like concrete, and it seemed as if the muscles in his back had been put through a shredder.

Nikic, a 21-year-old, had started the day with determination. If he could overcome the challenge of this race — a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run — and do it under 17 hours, he would be the first competitor with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon.

Such a feat would not just put him in the record books. It would also prove to himself and those around him that he could, in fact, do big things. And if he could do big things, then maybe one day he would be able to fulfil his ultimate dream: to live independently and have a wife and a family of his own.

It’s important to know that when Nikic was 5 months old, he endured open-heart surgery. He was so weak and had such poor balance that he did not walk on his own until he was 4. When he learned to run, it took months for him to discover how to swing his arms at his side instead of holding them straight above his head.

He said he always felt isolated growing up – until he found comfort in sports and found a local sports training group and set his sights on the Ironman. It was the ultimate test. Conquer it, and he felt he could do anything.

When he got to the marathon of the Ironman race,  It began well enough.

But at Mile 10, everything changed. He slowed so much that it seemed he was barely moving at all. He began complaining about the pain. There was anguish in his eyes. His supporters huddled around him, doling out hugs, hoping to lift his spirits.

Nikic’s dad clutched his son, drew him close and whispered in his ear: “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?”

Chris Nikic knew this wasn’t only about finishing an Ironman, but about showing himself what he could achieve in the future.

“My dreams,” he told his father, “are going to win.”

He began to jog again.

One step forward. Two. Three. One step. Two. Three.

He found his rhythm. Nothing could stop him. He crossed the finish line with arms held high in celebration, and a little time to spare — 16 hours 46 minutes 9 seconds.

He said “I learned that there are no limits,” “Do not put a lid on me.” Nikic held tight onto his dreams, he showed patience and hopeful perseverance and guts. We could use a little more of that in this world.