1% Better : ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal

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Columns: Celebrate Success!

1% Better

Stanforth, Dixie Ph.D., FACSM; Crownover, Erin M.S.

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal 27(2):p 63-66, 3/4 2023. | DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000846
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Have you ever wondered “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” That question is the driving force behind Chris Nikic's story and his desire to inspire others to believe they can accomplish more with the simple “1% better” plan (Figure 1). Chris used this method to become the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, and ending with a 26.2-mile marathon. After Special Olympics Florida launched its triathlon program in 2018, Chris' parents encouraged him to try it to get in shape and have fun. He competed in his first triathlon in March of 2018 and by August 2019, he finished last of all the Special Olympics athletes in 1 hour and 41 minutes for the 13-mile course. Undeterred and supported by Dan Grieb, the captain of a local triathlon club, he completed an Olympic triathlon in January 2020, finishing 32 miles in 4 hours and 25 minutes (Figure 2). Chris followed that with a half Ironman in May (70.3 miles in 8 hours and 25 minutes) and a full Ironman in November (140.6 miles in 16 hours and 46 minutes).

Figure 1:
Chris highlighting his dream board. Photos courtesy of Chris Nikic.
Figure 2:
Chris with his guide Dan Grieb, the captain of a local triathlon club.

A typical day includes a 5 ½-hour workout, beginning with a swim at 5:45 a.m. followed by 30 minutes on a Vasa Swim Trainer at home; 1 hour at the gym completing 10 sets of 32 reps of push-ups, sit-ups, and squats; stretching and cold tub recovery; and finally 1 hour on the bike smart trainer. All done by 2 p.m.…Whew! Chris' focus on becoming an elite athlete began with a single recipe for success: get “1% better” every day. To accomplish this, he and his father, Nik, are intentional in programming his training to gradually increase his workload. Although they tease each other about what each day of training looks like, Chris is quick to share some of the life lessons that have shaped his incredible improvement and impact, including “no excuses” and “be in the moment.”


Chris' resume is compelling, considering he just started training and competing a few short years ago. As an Adidas-sponsored athlete, he will have his own shoe launch in the coming year (Figure 3) and he is excited to share them with others because he says they make him “explode” and “go fast.” A few of his other accomplishments:

Figure 3:
Chris competing in Boston while sporting his new running shoes.
  • Special Olympics Champion Ambassador
  • Lighting the flame for the Special Olympics USA Games (2022)
  • Two ESPY awards: Jimmy V for Perseverance and Male Athlete with a Disability (2021)
  • The Laureus Sporting Moment of the Year Award at The ESPYS (2021)
  • 2022 book: 1% Better: Reaching My Full Potential and How You Can Too
  • Inducted into The Florida Sports Hall of Fame (November 2022)
  • NYC and 2X Boston Marathon finisher
  • Guinness world record
  • Public speaker (more than 200 in the last 2 years)


When asked how he stays humble with all these awards and attention, Chris highlights how his faith helps him focus on his God-given abilities as he honors God by being the best he can be. God gives him his faith, trust, motivation to persevere, and helps him to stay committed to the finish of each task. Chris has learned to distinguish between goals and dreams. He shares that he has yearly goals that have included everything from completing his first triathlon to becoming a public speaker to writing a book, all of which he has accomplished. For 2023, Chris has set the goal of completing 10 marathons before he retires: Chicago, London, Boston, New York, Munich, Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles, Portland, and the Great Wall of China. The term “retiring” to Chris means he doesn't have to do anything anymore if he doesn't want to, except help other people. But of course, Chris loves the social aspect of competing, so he will be doing Ironmans and marathons for years to come.

Long term, his fitness goals include “getting really good at basketball and golf,” and we think he has his sights on the NBA!

Chris notes that dreams are the secret to lifetime success. His current dreams, which have been fueled by his faith, are listed here, and he is quick to point out that he has completed many of them already:

  1. Make his own money
  2. Buy his own house
  3. Buy his own car
  4. Marry a smoking hot blonde
  5. Become a famous public speaker
  6. Own his own business


What does Chris do when he's not training? When he gets to choose, he is with his girlfriend Adrienne (Figure 4). Persistence and patience were the key to winning her over. Chris met Adrienne 4½ years ago, when they both started a Special Olympics triathlon program in Florida. When they first met, he asked her out, but it wasn't until 6 months ago she said yes. His favorite thing to do is go for a walk with Adrienne and share some Chipotle. After he retires, he will make the transition to coaching Adrienne to help her complete her first Ironman and marathon. They intend to do lots of races around the world together with the shared goal of raising awareness for others with Down syndrome and autism. Talk about the ultimate power couple!

Figure 4:
Chris with his girlfriend Adrienne.

As he travels to see Adrienne, Chris and his father, Nik, practice flashcards for upcoming speeches using the 1% method to get better each time. Chris explains that if he learns three slides a day, 7 days later, he is up to 21 slides. He is living proof that the 1% method works for everything, creating a solid foundation for training and life.

What Chris likes most about public speaking is inspiring people to enjoy being in the moment. He told us: “If you are willing to commit to get 1% better every day and have no excuses, you can do anything.” Check out sidebar 1 to learn more. There was no complaining from Chris as our interview was ending. It was approaching 8 p.m. in Florida and it was a good time for Chris to attack the bike smart trainer…but he also was willing to consider a boat ride. Cheers to Chris and his drive to influence others to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential by embracing the challenge of adding just 1% more each day. For more information about Chis and his story, check out https://chrisnikic.com and see sidebar 2.

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