A triathlete since 2007, Nikki Makris experienced a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2010, at the age of 35. Although she initially lost a great deal of independence (she was unable to drive and was heavily reliant on family and friends) and suffered bouts of depression and fear in the face of her changed circumstances, Nikki soon realized that she wanted to take back control of her life. By committing to race an Ironman (with the clearance of her physician), Nikki also committed to a new outlook–one in which anything is possible, despite obstacles that can seem overwhelming. She learned how to manage the symptoms of her disease and successfully trained for and raced both the 2012 and 2013 Ironman Coeur D’Alene, and on August 3rd she’ll line up in her hometown to tackle the inaugural Ironman Boulder, both as a personal goal and as a public effort to raise awareness and funds to help others dealing with epilepsy. We had a chat with Nikki to learn more about what motivates this incredible athlete!
SOAS: In what ways does epilepsy affect your training and racing, and how do you handle these challenges?
Nikki: I’m lucky because for the most part my seizures are controlled by medication, but I’ve had breakthrough seizures that were provoked by excessive fatigue and stress. I’m learning to listen to my body and not push too hard when I’m fatigued, which is difficult when training for an IRONMAN. I can’t train the same volume and intensity as other IRONMAN triathletes, sometimes missing key workouts. During the race I really concentrate on conserving my energy and staying within myself. I have a specific race plan I stick with regardless if I’m feeling strong.
SOAS: What’s something positive that has happened in your life as a result of your diagnosis?
Nikki: I’ve benefited so much from taking on endurance sports. I remember crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. It was so emotional. I realized I could do anything if I stay focused and committed. I’ve made it my purpose to share how powerfully doing endurance sports can change one’s life–more than the health benefits, it also improves self-esteem, confidence and being a part of a community. With my diagnosis I feel I have a stronger platform as proof there are no limits to what one can accomplish.
Before a race a woman who I haven’t seen in over a year came up to me and said she was racing her first triathlon because I inspired her. It’s a profound feeling I can’t put into words.
SOAS: Do you use any motivational mantras or have any inner dialogues while racing? If so, will you share them?
Nikki: My personal mantra is “Just Keep Moving.” I know I’ll finish if I just keep moving. It’s my mantra for racing but in life, too. I write it on my right hand and I write “I am an IRONMAN” on my left.
SOAS: What are you most looking forward to on race day in Boulder?
Nikki: Boulder is in my backyard and I have a lot of friends coming to support me. I’m also excited for the visiting triathletes to experience the Boulder community energy and support for endurance sports.
SOAS: How do you like to reward or pamper yourself post-race?
Nikki: A pedicure and a good massage.
SOAS: What are 5 words you would use to describe yourself?
Nikki: Strong-minded, focused, caring, loyal and thoughtful.
(BTW Nikki, we agree!)
If you’d like to learn more about Nikki and help support her Ironman Boulder fundraising effort for the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado, visit