History was made at this Sunday’s 2023 IRONMAN® 70.3® Eagleman triathlon, as Chris Nikic (Clermont, Fla.), the first person with Down syndrome to complete a full-distance IRONMAN® triathlon, was joined by three friends from the Special Olympics, Kennet Lefkovic (Palm Coast, Fla.), Jonathan Sady (Orlando, Fla.), and Marlynne Stutzman (Tampa, Fla.), to become the largest contingent of athletes with an Intellectual Disability (ID) to race an IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon to date. All four athletes, racing as part of Team IRONMAN Foundation, a part of the Race For ChangeTM initiative finished the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile half marathon within time limits, marking the day as both a historic feat and another reminder that Anything Is Possible® (Kennet Lefkovic – 5:42:39, Jonathan Sady – 6:15:07, Marlynne Stutzman – 6:17:59, and Chris Nikic – 8:01:08). For Lefkovic, Sady, and Stutzman, this was their first ever attempt at an IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon.
“Sunday was an historic day for athletes competing with an intellectual disability in our PC/ID Open Division, and we are so proud of what Chris, Marlynne, Kennet, and Jonathan accomplished on race day. All they needed was an opportunity to show what they are capable of doing, and it was nothing short of amazing!” said Beth Atnip, Sr. Vice President of Global Operations for The IRONMAN Group. “It has been remarkable to work on and see this division evolve over the years with the increase of PC athletes and special teams, and now ID athletes. We are excited to see what the future holds as the number of athletes with an intellectual disability continues to grow thanks to more and more athletes like Chris, Marlynne, Kennet, and Jonathan, leading the way and showing what is possible.”
Chris Nikic, Kennet Lefkovic, and Jonathan Sady are three of the original four that started the Special Olympics triathlon pilot in Florida during the Spring of 2018. Marlynne Stutzman along with many other athletes joined the Special Olympics Triathlon program after seeing Nikic make history in November of 2020 when he became the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full-distance IRONMAN triathlon, earning a Guinness World Record. Since then, Nikic has continued to be a pioneer in endurance sports racing events around the world, including the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i in 2022.
While IRONMAN has had athletes with an intellectual disability race at its events in previous years, earlier this year IRONMAN announced updates to its competition rules, including a modified PC/ID Open division which formalized inclusivity for athletes with an intellectual disability like had previously existed for Physically Challenged and Special Teams athletes.
“Five years ago, three of us, Jonathan, Kennet and I started the Special Olympics pilot for triathlon and then Marlynne joined us. We never imagined we would be doing an IRONMAN 70.3 together, but it just happened. It means that anyone can do it if they work hard and get 1% better. Thanks to IRONMAN creating an ID category, now it is so much more fun with friends because it’s a three-day inclusion party and we get to do it together. The smiles on their faces are amazing,” said Chris Nikic, after completing IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman with his fellow athletes and friends.
Lefkovic shared, “I live every day with Autism, but today I finished my first IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon at Eagleman.”
Sady said after finishing his race, “I live with Autism, and I’ve dreamed of this for years, and today I finished my first IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon.”
Stutzman who also finished the Boston Marathon earlier this year shared, “My nickname is the fish because I love swimming. I live with Autism every day and I finished my first IRONMAN 70.3 event with three of my friends that also have Intellectual Disabilities.”
Sunday was also a special day for two special teams that competed at IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman. Chris Kemp who has cerebral palsy raced with Jeffrey Lampert (able-bodied athlete) as they went on to finish the event in 7:52:39. Seirra Bennett who also has cerebral palsy raced with Sarah Whelan (able-bodied athlete) and finished the event in a time of 7:32:59.