Former inmate competes in Ironman Championship

Mugshot of former Idaho Department of Correction inmate Shane Niemeyer
Inmate turned Ironman Shane Niemeyer

BOISE, December 15, 2010 – Shane Niemeyer’s road to recovery is 140.6 miles long.  He swims part of it, bikes most of it and runs the rest.

Niemeyer is an Ironman triathlete.  In December, the story of his transformation from being an overweight addict, who injected drugs daily and smoked and drank constantly, to being one of the fittest people in the world was told on national TV.  Niemeyer was profiled as part of NBC Sports’ coverage of the Ironman Triathlon, whichw as held on October 9th in   Kona, Hawai’i.

“To me, the point of life is to become a little better each day, to progress and evolve as people,” writes on his website “We are either an asset or a liability to our fellow man.”

Niemeyer figures he was in trouble with the law for 15 years before his drug addiction came to a head in 2003.  That’s when a judge in Ada County sentenced Niemeyer to one-and-a-half years to seven years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. As a result he was incarcerated from November 2003 to March 22, 2004 at North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood and Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI) in Kuna.

“It was a formative experience, surrounded day in and day out with the same routine, same clothes, same foods,” Niemeyer says. But the time in prison also gave him a chance to re-evaluate his life and chart a new course.

While in prison, Niemeyer read an article about the Ironman competition. Until then, he’d never heard of a triathlon. He started training. At least one inmate at ISCI still remembers seeing Niemeyer doggedly running around the track. 

Six months after Niemeyer was released, he competed in his first triathlon. His goal was to just finish.  He did. Today his goal is to finish in the top one percent of every race he enters.  Last year, at the Ironman Wisconsin in Madison, he finished 18th out of a field of 2,300 (the top eight-tenths of one percent). That qualified him to compete in the Ironman World Championship was broadcast on December 18, 2010 on NBC. 

“Our mission is to hold offenders accountable and give them opportunities to change,” says Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke. “Shane took us up on one of those opportunities, and now he’s showing us all what’s possible.”

In addition to enjoying success as an Ironman, Niemeyer has developed a following as a coach and motivational speaker. His message: it’s not enough to exercise your body – you must also discipline your mind.

“It is not the training or racing that is important.  It is our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors,” Niemeyer says.

Another one of Niemeyer’s core beliefs is that the quality of a person’s life is determined by the way they treat other people. He says during his time in prison and on probation, IDOC staff served as role models by always treating him with respect and expecting respect in return.

“The quality of our life is directly proportional to the quality of our being,” Niemeyer says. “I believe that the metric our life is measured by is our conduct and the way we treat one another.”

IDOC is one of the nation’s leaders in giving offenders opportunities to change.  Idaho now has one of the lowest rates of offender recidivism in the nation. IDOC is also emerging as a national leader in the implementation of innovative, evidence-based substance abuse treatment programs. IDOC is getting more offenders better treatment faster. As a result, offenders are spending less time locked up in prison at taxpayer expense, and succeeding as law-abiding citizens at a higher rate when they’re released.

“Few of our offenders get the story of their success told on national TV, but we see success stories like Shane’s get started in our department every day,” Director Reinke says.

The Ironman Triathlon is known for its grueling length and harsh conditions. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, that are raced without a break.  Most participants consider just completing the course within the 17-hour limit to be a victory.

Story published: 12/15/2010
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