VIDEO: Ironman Athlete Reunites With Cast Member That Helped Him Train
We’ve got yet another incredibly touching story for your Saturday morning about a magical Ironman!
Disney took to social media yesterday to share the story of Chris Nikic a recorded breaking athlete who was recently reunited with the Walt Disney World Cast Member that inspired him at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Chris, who resides in Central Florida set a Guinness World Record last month becoming the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon! He paid a visit to Walt Disney World this week to hang out with one of his training partners – Hollywood Studios cast member Jennifer Sturgess!
Chris first met Jennifer in January 2020 at the Central Florida Tri Club which offers training programs for Special Olympic athletes. Throughout 2020, Jennifer and Chris spent nearly every weekend training to help Chris prep for the grueling Ironman race. We knew we had our work cut out for us to get Chris ready, so we really ramped up training,” Jennifer said. “I would spend several hours with him on Saturdays for our long bike rides and three to four hours on Sundays for our long runs. I also had to ensure I was ready for the race so I could help support Chris.”
On race day, Jennifer was with by Chris’s side for the entire 112 mile bike course and offered words of encouragement along with way. Jennifer said of the experience, “Chris has had multiple ear surgeries which can affect his balance and ability to dismount the bike, so my job was not only to pace and encourage him but also to help keep him safe,” Jennifer said. “For Chris to persevere and complete the bike portion of the race with nine minutes to spare really was a miracle.”
But Jennifer’s comradery didn’t end there. Although it wasn’t planned in advance Jennifer actually ran the last 17 miles of the marathon with Chris helping him count cones as he ran to stay focused. “Shortly after the bike portion, our triathlon club got a frantic call from our coach that Chris was struggling in the last leg of the race and needed everyone to surround him and cheer him on,” Jennifer said. “Because I was a participant, I was able to get back on the course and encourage him across the finish line with our other training partners.”
For those unfamiliar with the Ironman competition, in 17 hours, participants are required to complete a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike course and a 26.2 mile run. Chris made history completing the race in 16 hours, 46 minutes and nine seconds!
What a touching story for the holiday season as Chris’ journey has helped to break down barriers for those with Down syndrome and has inspired so many along the way. During the last few miles of the race, a spectator began running along with Chris and his guides and managed to Facetime his sister who just gave birth to a child with Down syndrome.
During a nutrition stop, the spectator was able to share this story with Chris and his support team and to express his thanks for the hope it had given his sister. “He said what we’re doing for Chris is what his sister hopes for with her child,” Jennifer said.
Reflecting on the experience Jennifer said, “This truly was a life changing moment for me.” She continued, “Inclusion has always been important to me and to Disney, but this really showed me the power of it. Ironman’s slogan is ‘Anything is Possible,’ but these races are so incredibly difficult for every athlete. But when people rallied around Chris to help him, include him and support him, the power was just unbelievable. He completed this race himself, but the power of inclusion was there pushing and guiding him along the way.”
Readers are encouraged to keep following along with MickeyBlog for more incredible stories like the one above throughout the holiday season. For those interested in supporting the Special Olympics you can find those details here.
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