In recognition of World Down syndrome Day on March 21, Sunday’s SportsCenter SC Featured segment will tell the remarkable story of Chris Nikic, who last year became the first person living with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon.
The “17 Hours” feature, reported by Gene Wojciechowski and produced by Joshua Vorensky, will debut in the 8 a.m. ET hour of SportsCenter and re-air in other editions throughout the day. Vorensky, a producer in ESPN Features, discussed the project with Front Row:
How did telling this story come about?
I always look for different, compelling stories online, and I found this story in USA Today on Chris training for the Ironman. I’ve always been a big runner myself. I grew up helping people living with intellectual disabilities learn how to swim and play soccer. I’ve worked on the Special Olympics, so this story obviously really sang to me.
I reached out to the family, got a rapport down, and got the whole process started. We filmed them training and did interviews, we were there for the race in November, and then we did follow-up interviews earlier this month. We had wanted to give them some space – they’ve obviously received a lot of attention, and we didn’t want to overwhelm them. They are an extremely wonderful family and incredibly supportive of one another, and I’m just inspired by them every day.
As a producer, how do you tell a story that’s already gotten a lot of attention?
For us as storytellers at ESPN, the number one goal for us is to be able to bring the audience to the person’s level. I think what he’s accomplishing is amazing, and it would have been very easy to do this big grandiose story. Still, I think if you see the interactions, if you see the relationships between the family, that’s where we separate – we let those natural moments breathe. I think it is a challenge to be able to tell it differently, but ultimately you want to be able to tell the story how the story is, and I believe that we did that very well.
How much has this project meant to you personally?
It’s been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me, and it’s an honor to be able to tell their story. Ultimately it’s a story about family and about perseverance – it’s a story about doing – one could argue, is one of the toughest races on the planet. And I think this is just a testament to Chris, a testament to his family, and testament to the love that they have for each other.
I just want to thank the family, just for their tremendous time, sharing all their photos, and just being very warm and very receptive to us.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Nikic will be competing in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. The Walt Disney Company and ESPN have built a 35-year relationship with Special Olympics, working together to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. ESPN is the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports®, which empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.