This post was originally published on May 30, 2014.
Welcome to AfterPartyHeroes, our ongoing shoutout to those who have done great things either in or for recovery. Today’s featured hero transformed himself from prison-bound heroin addict to Ironman—and no, it’s not Robert Downey, Jr. It’s Shane Niemeyer, author of the new memoir The Hurt Artist.
Niemeyer’s Path to Recovery
Until he hit bottom at age 28, Niemeyer’s story was a familiar one to many addicts, complete with DUIs, burglaries, and severed relationships. By 2003, he had lost all hope of recovery. Locked in Ada County Jail and headed for prison, he attempted suicide. Instead of dying, he woke up wanting to live free from drugs. But just living clean wasn’t a lofty enough goal for Niemeyer. Inspired by a fitness magazine a guard had handed him, he set his sites on the Ironman triathlon. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon all in a row. You can always count on addicts to go big or go home, and Niemeyer went big.
Overweight with a swollen liver, Niemeyer was a far cry from the athletes gracing the magazine’s photographs. But that didn’t daunt him as he began working out with simple pushups and sit-ups in his cell. Eventually he worked his way up to running laps in the prison yard. “I wanted to be more than fit,” he told Outside Magazine. “I’d developed an urgency that I needed to achieve something great.”
In 2005, less than six months out of prison, he undertook his first Half Ironman, which left him with agonizing cramps. He learned that training—and not overtraining—takes discipline and patience. The next month, he completed his first full Ironman. Today, Niemeyer is a world-class endurance athlete and has qualified for the Ironman World Championships four different times.
Addiction Still Plays a Role
“Distance triathlons definitely suit people who are a little compulsive or imbalanced,” Niemeyer admitted, when asked if his addictive personality factored into his fitness success. “There’s an obsessive element to it. I try to avoid being too over the top, but if you only want one thing, to be successful you have to be one-dimensional.”
Continuous Service to Others
But Niemeyer doesn’t just train and race—he also gives back. Working as a personal fitness coach in Boulder, Colorado, he helps people at all fitness levels tap into their true goals—whether it’s losing weight, rebuilding strength after chemotherapy, or qualifying for the Boston Marathon. He also tours as a motivational speaker. Clearly, Niemeyer’s transformation into a true superhero is far more than just a physical one.
“It’s not the training and racing that are important,” Niemeyer says. “It’s our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The quality of our lives is directly proportional to the quality of our being, to our conduct, and the way we treat one another.”
Shane Niemeyer is living proof that where recovery is possible, anything is possible. May he inspire us all to dream a little bigger.
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