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Disabled marathoner inspires crowd at Westport charity event

Angelina Matra ’25
Awesome Austin” (left) and his chief angel Andrew Berman (right) show off the medals Austin has received after participating in MyTEAM TRIUMPH events

 A 2.4 mile swim, an 112 mile bike ride and a full 26.2 mile marathon: all were completed consecutively in under 17 hours by 21-year-old Ironman Chris Nikic. The catch? Nikic has down syndrome. 

The disabled athlete spoke about his incredible accomplishments alongside other speakers at the MyTEAM TRIUMPH “Stories of Triumph and Inclusion” fundraiser at the Westport Library on Nov. 3. 

MyTEAM TRIUMPH is an organization dedicated to integrating special needs children and adults into their local communities by allowing them to serve as “captains” in a race, such as the Turkey Trot or the Minute Man, on specialized strollers pushed by volunteer “angels.” 

“We don’t want to have separate events just for people with special needs,” Todd Ehrlich, co-founder and president of the MyTEAM TRIUMPH Connecticut chapter, said. “We want them to be out in the middle of the community.” 

Despite the acute difficulties of living with special needs, MyTEAM TRIUMPH participants don’t have a resigned or desolate attitude. Instead, the air is filled with joy as every member is centered around uplifting each other. 

It wasn’t until we stopped worrying and we allowed him to just ‘go’ that he really blossomed.

— Chris Nikic’s father Nik Nikic

The crowd lit up with cheers for nicknames like “Action Jackson” and “Awesome Austin.” After every race, Austin gets out of his stroller, stands up, and pushes his chief angel Andrew Berman across the finish line. 

“At the end of each event we give all of the individuals that raced a medal for their participation and their efforts,” Berman said. “Some of these brave and courageous men and women here have never gotten a medal before, and when they get this medal they have smiles from ear to ear. It melts the soul.”

Nikic, too, had an incredibly inspiring and optimistic attitude as he shared his story of overcoming countless obstacles to become one of the most accomplished athletes with down syndrome of all time. 

Nikic initially pursued running simply as a way to get active in his very sedentary lifestyle. Growing up with Down syndrome placed limitations on his ability to balance, develop muscle mass and perform many other everyday functions. His parents were constantly forced to battle the many unknowns that came along with his syndrome. 

“It wasn’t until we stopped worrying and we allowed him to just ‘go’ that he really blossomed,” Chris Nikic’s father Nik Nikic said.

Chris Nikic’s biggest struggle was learning how to ride a bicycle. Down syndrome severely impaired his sense of balance, making it extremely difficult for him to remain upright on a bike, much less ride 112 miles at an Ironman pace. 

“It took him six months to learn how to balance on a bike,” Nik Nikic said. “Your average five-year-old can learn how to ride a bike in two or three days.” 

In order to build enough strength to complete a full Ironman, Chris Nikic devoted himself to the 1% method, in which he pledged to become 1% better every day. During his first training session, he performed one push-up, one sit-up and one squat, vowing to add one rep every two days. By Ironman Florida, he reached 200. Soon after, he was doing 430. 

“[Training] is three to six hours,” Chris Nikic said. “Every day. Constant speed, constant motion, constant pace.”

To this day, Chris Nikic has completed two full Ironmans and all six major marathons, becoming the first and only man with down syndrome to do so. He has been featured in countless magazines, earned his own shoe brand and even made enough money to buy his own home. 

“Push yourself. Set a bar. Raise the expectations,” Chris Nikic said. “You can be anything that is possible.”

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Angelina Matra ’25
Angelina Matra ’25, Paper Opinions Editor
Paper Opinions Editor Angelina Matra ’25 had anything but a cruel summer. This June she attended Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “My friend and I went as ‘Reputation’ and ‘Lover,’” Matra said. “We even got one of my favorite songs, ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine,’ as one of our surprise songs.” Matra spent her summer working at Peak Performance and edited the Back to School issue of Inklings. After taking Introduction to Journalism, Matra discovered her love for journalism and pursued a paper editor position.  “I really liked it and I just thought I’ll do more of this,” Matra said.

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