Kayleigh Williamson and Chris Nikic break barriers in mainstream sports

About a year and a half ago, you probably heard about Chris Nikic. In the fall of 2020, the Florida-born was a 21-year-old who made national news when he became the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Ironman triathlon.

To complete the Florida Ironman in November 2020, it took Nikic a total of 16 hours, 46 minutes and 9 seconds, swimming 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles, before running a 26.2-mile marathon. But of course, Nikic has not yet finished conquering Iron Man and setting a Guinness World Record.

Only this spring, Nikic also participated in the Great Boston Marathon and enjoyed every minute of it.

“I love the hill of Hasret. The crowd support has been amazing!” Nikic said this week, of the legendary race.

Not only did Nikic complete Boston, but he also ran a new and better personal marathon there, doing it in 5 hours 28 minutes. In finishing the country’s most famous marathon, Nikic beat his previous record by more than half an hour.

However, Nikic doesn’t just train and compete for personal prizes. Before running Boston, he joined the Runner 321 campaign. Along with fellow long-distance runner Kayleigh Williamson, Nikic and the group aim to expand inclusivity though running events and major sports in general.

Williamson, 32, is the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Marathon, and she will represent Runner 321 in the 2023 Boston Marathon.

Sandy Williamson, Kayleigh’s mother and biggest fan, said that while the running and training itself was an inspiration to her daughter and observers alike, she hints that being a part of Runner 321 helps frame both individual goals with more effort at hand.

“My child is a legacy,” Sandy Williamson said. “That’s what I see with Kayleigh and Runner 321 together, putting an imprint on the future.”

Organized by mega sports brand Adidas, the Runner 321 campaign was established to support the Down Syndrome community and neuro-differentiated athletes, to ensure they are represented in mainstream sports. Runner 321 is also rallying marathon and sprint organizers to reserve Bib #321 for Down Syndrome and various nerve athletes.

Last week, I reached out to both Williamson and Nikic to talk about the runs and records they’ve had recently.

Andy Fry: You made national news after you completed Iron Man. Was the Boston Marathon more difficult? More interesting?

Chris Nikic: I had previously completed the Boston Marathon in the fall of 2022, so I knew what to expect and trained hard for it. Being the first runner (of) 321, I wanted to show the world what it means to be included in mainstream sports. The crowd support was amazing, and for the last 3.21 miles we had a huge gathering of Runner 321 supporters.

My personal best run is 5 hours 28 minutes, which is more than 30 minutes faster than my time in October.

AF: To accomplish what you already have, you’ve worked with great coaches. What are coaches doing with you now?

Nikic: Speed! I’m competing in the June US Olympics (Special Olympics) in Olympic triathlon and working on everything faster, especially running. I’m also training for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October.

AF: How did you have to modify your body to compete in America’s most famous marathon?

Nikic: We believe in getting 1% more every day, in everything we do. So since last year’s Boston Marathon, I’ve continued to apply that mindset and commitment throughout my training to prepare my body for this year’s race and my other events this year. From nutrition, to coaching, to partner coaching to racing coaching, we’re fully committed to showing the world what’s possible when you focus on 1% better every day.

AF: First Austin, then Boston. What were these marathons you like participating in?

Kylie Williamson: It’s a dream come true. It was hard work. I ran Austin but I will be the next 321 runner in Boston in 2023!

Chris (Nickick) ran Boston this year as the first 321 runner and when he handed me a 321 bib, I was filled with excitement and pride. Like Chris, I didn’t always feel integrated and didn’t mature while training.

Runner 321 showed me what’s possible – by seeing others like me represented in mainstream sports. Inclusion is everything to our community (and) it helps us feel inspired to dream and see what is possible.

AF: Women have been breaking barriers in exercise for a long time now. What does it feel like to be a part of that?

Williamson: Amazing. humility. Inspirational. Running as the first female 321st runner in Boston next year will show the world that impossible is nothing. A marathon is hard, but breaking barriers is even harder – and very important! Lots of women have inspired me in sports but my mom is my hero. My mother raised me to believe in me. My mom changed my life.

Read Frye’s interviews with American athletes Alex Morgan And Katie Ledecky.


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