Not long ago, Caleb Prewitt of Jacksonville, Florida, could barely ride a bicycle without help from his dad.
The 14-year-old with Down syndrome decided to attend a summer bike camp in Orlando to improve his skills. While there, he met Chris Nikic, a legendary Ironman athlete who also has Down syndrome and learned to ride at camp.
At age 21, Chris made history by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to ever complete the grueling Florida’s Visit Panama City Beach Ironman. In that one event, he swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles.
Chris and Caleb instantly hit it off. Caleb’s mom, Karen Prewitt, said it was Chris’ warmth and kindness that drew her son in. The athlete’s motto is “be 1 percent better,” and he instilled that attitude in Caleb right off the bat.
“Just the fact that he was so warm and welcoming to him made Chris think, ‘These are things that I can do, too,'” Karen explained.
Karen arranged for Caleb to spend a day with Chris, and she was delighted when Chris naturally stepped into a big brother and mentor role for her son.
“I still remember the permanent smile on Caleb’s face that day,” the mom told ESPN. “The entire time, Chris encouraged Caleb to follow in his footsteps. ‘Pick up bike riding and stay with it,’ Chris told him. ‘Do other things like strength and swimming.’ Caleb was convinced and inspired.”
Just a month later, Caleb had mastered the bicycle and was officially training for a mini-triathlon. While he and Chris couldn’t see each other often due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, they met up for training sessions whenever they could.
“It wasn’t long before Caleb started participating in triathlon clinics with the Special Olympics after Chris’ Ironman completion,” Karen said. “I think about the impact that Chris has had on Caleb’s life alone, and I just know that he’s inspiring thousands of others in their own unique journeys.”
Caleb is definitely following in his mentor’s footsteps. In fact, he’s made history now, too. In June, Caleb finished his first mini-triathlon and is believed to be the youngest person with Down syndrome to ever accomplish this task!
Having Chris as a mentor has totally changed Caleb’s life and opened his mind to the possibilities, and his story isn’t even close to being over. Caleb recently received an invitation to join his hero on Florida’s Special Olympics triathlon team next summer!
Share this story to wish both athletes luck as they continue to break down barriers and inspire millions.
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