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Iron Sharpens Iron: Chris Nikic’s Triathlon Training and Competition

Triathlon participant, Chris Nikic, and his physical therapist, Trevor Hicks, biking on the road

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As the Official Health Care Provider for Chris Nikic, we’re thrilled to cheer him on at the 2022 IRONMAN® World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i. In 2020, Chris became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, inspiring countless athletes of all ages and abilities to reach their God-given potential.

Since that time, Chris has followed through on his racing goals and more, always with his personal mantra in mind: get 1% better every day. In 2021 and 2022, Chris completed the Boston Marathon twice, earned two gold medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games and was awarded the Jimmy V Award at the ESPYs. Beyond his athletic accomplishments, Chris is a motivational speaker and co-author of the book “1% better”. He’s on a mission to change perceptions and expectations for athletes like himself and build a more inclusive sports community for everyone.

Today, with the support of his AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab team, Chris is returning to Hawaii for the pinnacle event of the IRONMAN series. And this time, he’s completing every leg of the 140.6-mile journey with AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab physical therapist and fellow IRONMAN Trevor Hicks, PT, DPT, OCS, rooting him on across the Big Island.

Triathlon participant, Chris Nikic, and his physical therapist, Trevor Hicks, biking on the road

How to Watch Chris Nikic in the IRONMAN World Championship

Chris will be competing on Thursday, October 6, at 6:27 am HST (12:27 pm EST) and will be wearing bib 117. You can catch live coverage of the triathlon on TV and streaming online on IRONMAN social media platforms. In the IRONMAN mobile app, you can track Chris at various checkpoints throughout the day. For updates from Chris well after the race, keep up with him on Instagram.

More Than a Triathlon: The Ultimate Test of Body, Mind and Spirit

A 2.4-mile swim in the open ocean, a 112-mile bike ride on steep terrain and a 26.2-mile run in the Hawai’ian heat. “The IRONMAN Kona triathlon is a race unlike any other,” says Trevor, who has helped Chris prepare since February and was invited to Kona by Chris’ dad Nik.

“IRONMAN is the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit, as you have to complete three different endurance disciplines back-to-back-to-back, all while battling the elements of weather, other racers and how your body will react,” Trevor explains.

But for all the physical strength required, the mental and spiritual components are just as integral to crossing the finish line. “Completing an IRONMAN is a unique athletic accomplishment mainly because of the incredible willpower it takes to compete. It takes great mental fortitude to train — swimming, cycling and running for months and even years.”

“In my opinion, training is far harder than the race itself. If you prepare properly, the race is just another long training day that you’ve practiced,” says Trevor.

Chris Nikic and his two teammates jogging on a cement trail
Chris running with his guide Dan Grieb and physical therapist Trevor Hicks during a triathlon in Clermont, Florida.

How Chris and Trevor Have Prepared for Kona

Trevor explains that when training for an IRONMAN, the goal is to increase your mileage in each discipline while still incorporating speed work to maintain a faster speed for longer durations so that you can ultimately finish in the best possible time.

Chris is no exception to this rigorous training, and in the months they’ve worked together, Trevor has helped Chris steadily optimize his performance. Helping patients perform their best physically, mentally and spiritually is Trevor’s whole focus as a clinical manager at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab — a mission that has extended to every part of helping Chris train for IRONMAN Kona.

“Chris is much different now than when I met him; he’s built amazing balance, mobility and coordination in the past seven months,” Trevor says. The pair have worked together to strengthen Chris’ core and gain mobility in his hips and lumbopelvic spine for greater comfort while cycling long distances.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

Here in Florida, Trevor says, Chris has trained for the first leg of the triathlon in the open ocean but will again face a challenging swim in Kailua Bay. And as the Sunshine State is nearly flat, the elevation gains across the biking and running courses in Kona will pose a considerable challenge.

Despite these factors, Trevor has every confidence in Chris, and in his guide, veteran police officer Dan Grieb. Dan will be there at each step to help Chris stay safe, ensuring he doesn’t get off course in the water, helping him switch gears on the bike and encouraging him to keep the pace while running.

Chris Nikic being instructed by his physician, Trevor Hicks.

Trevor’s Goals for Chris in the IRONMAN World Championship

For Chris, Trevor’s technical goals are to stay injury-free, finish the triathlon within the time cap and have fun racing, too. “First and foremost, I’m hoping to see Chris cross that finish line,” Trevor says, “I hope to see all the hard work that he and his team have put in finally pay off.”

Being a fellow triathlete and IRONMAN himself, Trevor has forged a unique patient-clinician bond with Chris, and by being there in Kona, “I’m hoping to be not only another supporter of Chris but also someone who understands what he’ll be embarking on during the race,” he says.

In Trevor, Chris has an experienced trainer, a devoted fan and, most importantly, another like-minded individual who’s dedicated to reminding him of everything he’s capable of. “Chris is a success story no matter what because of the effort he puts forth every day,” Trevor says, “and IRONMAN Kona is just a bigger stage to show that to the world.”

Triathlon participant, Chris Nikic, and his physical therapist, Trevor Hicks, getting in the water

Pre-Race Preparations: Chris Arrives and Practices in Hawai’i

Together with his dad, his guide and Trevor, Chris arrived safely in Hawai’i the week of the race and began preparing.

Trevor Hicks, Dan Grieb and Chris Nikic in Kona, Hawaii.
Trevor traveled to Kona, Hawai’i, with Chris, his guide Dan Grieb and his supporters.

Monday Recap

“We did a practice swim in Kailua Bay with Chris out to ‘the coffee boat’, which was surrounded by incredible blue water in the actual swim bay. It was amazing, but a little choppy, and the rough conditions gave us a feel for the water,” Trevor said on the Monday before the race. “Chris rocked it, and we had a blast as a group supporting him.”

The group — which included Chris’ guide Dan and his girlfriend, fellow Special Olympics triathlete Adrienne Bunn — then did a quick 30-minute run down Ali’i Drive, the iconic last stretch and finish of the race. After a family dinner, Trevor worked with Chris and Dan on some active mobility and soft tissue work to further prepare for the race.

Tuesday Recap

The following day was a relaxed day for Chris and Dan. Trevor and a few supporters explored some local food and enjoyed a hike in Pololū Valley at the island’s north end, which offered scenic beach views and cliffs opening into a beautiful valley below.

Tuesday night ended with the E Komo Mai welcome banquet, complete with authentic hula dancing and luau activities. “The athletes were honored and celebrated, and it was a great night out with the 1% better team,” Trevor said.

Race Day Recap: Chris Swims, Bikes and Runs in the IRONMAN World Championship

Donning bib 117, Chris competed in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, on Thursday, October 6, 2022 — his 23rd birthday. Trevor Hicks was there to support him, cheer him on and capture live updates at each leg of the triathlon.

Trevor Hicks and Chris Nikic before and during the 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay.
As a fellow IRONMAN, Trevor helped Chris prepare physically and mentally for his 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay, which he completed in a 1:42 time.

Swim update from Trevor: “So far, so good! They’re out of the water and looking strong. Chris got out in just over one hour and 40 minutes, which was a good 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and he’s off to the bike!"

Chris Nikic and part of the 112-mile bike course in the IRONMAN World Championship
During the IRONMAN World Championship, Chris biked 112 miles under the hot Hawai’ian sun in an 8:05 time.

Bike update from Trevor: “Chris has made the turnaround and has made the long, slow climb to the top of the mountain! He’s doing great and is still on pace with their checkpoints. It’s getting hot, but spirits are high. He completed the first 50 miles in exactly 3:21 — Down syndrome is also called trisomy 21 — and God had a part in that!”

Chris Nikic hugs a supporter and stands in front of the finisher banner at the IRONMAN World Championship.
Chris finished the 26.2-mile run with a 6:29 time and was embraced by family and supporters after crossing the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championship.

Run update from Trevor: “It was an incredible experience seeing Chris cross the finish line! He battled lots of pain and fatigue on the run, but he prevailed and finished 30 minutes ahead of the time cap! Incredible performance by Chris.”

Anything Is Possible: Chris Nikic Finishes the IRONMAN World Championship

Friends, family and supporters all surrounded Chris as he finished the triathlon, embracing him on this momentous achievement. His girlfriend Adrienne was among the first to hug Chris after he completed the run, and fans cheered as Chris presented her with a promise ring (she said yes!).

By crossing the finish line in Kona, Chris made history by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete the IRONMAN World Championship. “This is something that changes perceptions for every parent worldwide with children with Down syndrome,” the finish-line announcer said over the loudspeaker as Chris ran into his dad’s arms, “Now, they all know one thing for sure: anything is possible.”

On behalf of physical therapist Trevor Hicks, our entire AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab team and AdventHealth as a whole, congratulations, Chris Nikic! You are an inspiration to all of us, and we are honored to be your Official Health Care Provider.

Reach Your Full Potential With Trusted Sports Medicine Care

Whether you’re a casual athlete, an IRONMAN finisher or any level in between, you deserve expert care and guidance to train effectively or bounce back after an injury, no matter your sport.

At AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab, we work with athletes of all ages, levels and abilities to help them reach their goals. Our experienced physical therapists and sports medicine professionals will work one-on-one with you to support your whole-person health, so you can feel well in body, mind and spirit.

Click here to learn more about our partnership with Chris Nikic, our care at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab and find a Central Florida sports medicine specialist like Trevor to help you perform your best.

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