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Inclusion And Empathy Go A Long Way Towards A Better World

I’m willing to bet the name Chris Nikic is unknown to you. It certainly was to me. But a few weeks back, the name rippled across the worldwide spectrum of sport when …  

… the 21-year-old amateur athlete graciously and entertainingly accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2021 ESPYs, ESPN’s annual made-for-TV awards extravaganza.

The “Jimmy V”, named for legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, is considered one of the show’s most prestigious recognitions. Beloved by fans far beyond N.C. State, Valvano fought a long and courageous battle with cancer before passing in the spring of 1993 at the too-soon age of 48. Two months earlier, he’d delivered a stirring speech about courage at the ESPYs, imploring the audience, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

Chris Nikic never did. And now’s he’s an Ironman.

He completed one of the world’s most torturous events – a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon – to earn the title.

He also happens to be a Down Syndrome athlete.

And he’s also the first Down athlete to ever complete an Ironman within the event’s strict 17-hour time limit.

What Nikic did over the course of 16 hours, 46 minutes and nine seconds in the Florida event was amazing in itself. But the impact he made on the world in a mere three minutes, 35 seconds while delivering his acceptance speech is what rocketed around the globe. In his own words …

Thank you. I’m so grateful to be here.

My speech is on the screen because I have a Down Syndrome accent … and I speak like I am from the Deep South.

Thank you, ESPN, Special Olympics, Ironman, my friends, and family for making this possible.

I am an Ironman, Adidas athlete, public speaker, author and … as you can see, ladies, I am adorable, single, and available!

People ask, how did I overcome so many obstacles?

Easy. I got 1% better every day.

Three years ago, I was 18, overweight, out of shape, excluded and isolated.

But my dream was to be like you, to be included, to be independent … and to marry an amazing woman like my mom.

When I started, this was all about a boy and his dream.

But now, it is so much more.

Now I want to honor God by being the best I can be to give hope to others.

I do that by following a three-step plan:

  • I get 1% better every day
  • I work hard, and …
  • As Jimmy V said: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

It’s easy to make excuses and quit. I don’t do excuses. I don’t quit.

People ask, “Why don’t you quit?” Because my dream is bigger than my pain.

So, what’s next?

I want to inspire others and raise awareness for inclusion.

October is a big month with my birthday, Ironman Hawaii, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and our “1% Better” book.

Please help me raise awareness for inclusion.

And let’s make the world a better place for all of us.

Thank you and may God Bless you.

So few words, so much wisdom …

Much like Abraham Lincoln’s pithy yet powerful Gettysburg Address in 1863 [a mere 271 words], there is so much wisdom contained in this young man’s similarly brief speech [277 words]. Among the nuggets …

I get 1% better every day ….

I want to honor God by being the best I can be to give hope to others …

It’s easy to make excuses and quit …

My dream is bigger than my pain …

Please help me raise awareness for inclusion …

Powerful all, but it was the last item that grabbed me … Please help me raise awareness for inclusion.

In today’s world, especially for those of us in corporate meetings, events, and other hospitality-related jobs, we encounter people from all walks of life – young, old, Black, White, Anglo, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, educated, less-educated, urban, country, the healthy and the physically challenged.

It’s a patchwork of people and personalities. Some we are naturally drawn to, others maybe less so. But in our industry, we’re there in service to all of them. It’s critically important we not only make the natural connections [which are easy] but we also reach out and make those connections that require a little more effort and forbearance.

What a gift, a privilege, and a blessing to be able to do this.

So, when it comes to raising awareness for inclusion and empathy, I ask you, please, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”


Kenneth Jones