Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona looks like a catwalk during Ironman Hawaii race week. The best triathletes are guests on the Pacific island and run up and down the pier in top form. You won’t see it in such a concentrated form at any other triathlon venue. Nevertheless, there are some athletes who do not fit the typical cliché of the supposed model athlete and face different challenges in training and competition than others.
The name Chris Nikic is now well known to many in the triathlon scene. The American is the first person with Down syndrome to complete a long distance. He succeeded at the Ironman Florida 2020, where he finished after 16:46 hours. The 23-year-old’s motto is: “Get one percent better every day.” Nikic doesn’t let problems with training and competition get him down. Since he has problems with his sense of balance, a triathlon bike is out of the question for him. He needs straight handles and also needs to take frequent breaks to drink. However, frequent falls cannot be prevented this way, and the windy conditions on the Queen K further aggravate the situation. For Chris Nikic, Ironman Hawaii isn’t about a specific finish time, place or daylight finish, it’s about reaching the finish line – before or after the official cutoff.
The Australian Lauren Parker can already look back on a very successful career as a triathlete. In 2015, the 32-year-old finished second in her age group at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Finally, in April 2017, there was an incident that would change everything. During preparation for Ironman Australia, a week before the race, Parker had a cycling accident in which she crashed into a guard rail at 45 kilometers per hour. She suffered several broken ribs, fractures in her shoulder blade, back and pelvis, and a punctured lung. Since then she has been a paratriathlete on a hand bike and came third in this category at the Ironman World Championships. Parker now wants to build on this result.
At first glance, the Briton Sam Holness does not show that he is different from his competitors. He is autistic and describes this special feature as his “superpower”. Due to his autism, the 29-year-old is able to focus extremely and stick to one thing – the best prerequisites for a competition like the Ironman Hawaii. Holness has already qualified for the 70.3 World Championships in St. George (Utah) participated, and in the summer of 2022 he crossed the finish line at the Römer in Frankfurt. “I hope my story will help inspire other people from diverse and neurodiverse backgrounds to get involved in triathlon and endurance sports,” says Sam Holness.
Mériam Amara is the first blind athlete from her native France to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. She was born visually impaired due to a degenerative retinal disease before finally losing all her sight at the age of 25. Ten years later she started triathlon and since then has regularly participated in competitions with a guide. When swimming and running, the 41-year-old and her guide are connected by a rope, on the bike course they go on a tandem. Amara is one of eleven athletes participating in this year’s World Championships in the PC (Physically Handicapped) category.