Sun, Jan 02, 2011 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE: Addict swims, bikes and runs from past

AP, BOISE, Idaho

The first time Shane Niemeyer thought about Ironman triathlons, he had just tried to hang himself.

It was 2003 and he was a 27-year-old homeless heroin addict in an Idaho jail, awaiting sentencing for drug possession and burglary.

Guards put him in a straitjacket, so he says he used his feet to turn the pages of the magazine article about the endurance sport.

There was something about triathlons — and the commitment they demanded — that tripped a switch inside him: Maybe this was his way out, Niemeyer thought. Maybe he could spend his days swimming, cycling and running, instead of beating up Honduran drug dealers or burglarizing businesses to fuel his habit.

“I read the distances,” said Niemeyer, now 35. “I read the average time triathletes spend training. It was overwhelming to me. For some reason, I figured that would help occupy my time.”

KONA IRONMAN

Since his March 2004 release from a prison drug program, he’s done eight Ironman distance races, covering a combined 226.3km in each. He placed 19th at a 2009 Ironman race in Wisconsin, out of nearly 2,400 competitors. On Oct. 8 last year, Niemeyer finished his first Ironman World Championship race in Kona, Hawaii.

However, Kona, a race many count among the world’s toughest sporting events, wasn’t his biggest accomplishment of last year.

That came Dec. 10, when an Idaho judge finally released him from probation, marking what Niemeyer says is the first time in 15 years that he hasn’t been in prison, jail or under state supervision. From now on, he won’t have to ask a parole officer for permission when he travels to races.

Niemeyer said his descent started early, in the central Illinois town of Bloomington along historic Route 66 where he grew up. He was arrested for theft, burglary and driving under the influence — all by the time he turned 18.

“I was one of those kids you don’t want your kids hanging out with,” he said.

UNRULY BEHAVIOR

He tried school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, but was suspended in 1997. The initial charges: Inciting a riot. Police breaking up a big college party videotaped Niemeyer encouraging the unruly crowd.

Niemeyer skipped Colorado and the law for Boise, but he brought his addiction with him: He estimates he may have “nine or 10 different mug shots” in Ada County, Idaho, where Boise is located.

He was convicted of burglary and drug possession in 2003, his first felonies, earning prison sentences of up to 10 years.

District Court Judge Thomas Neville, the judge who just released Niemeyer from probation, said he remembers Niemeyer as a broken man from an Oct. 27, 2003 hearing. He had just attempted suicide and was emotionally distraught.

At sentencing two weeks later, Neville directed Niemeyer to a prison drug program designed to help inmates with substance abuse problems.

In a letter last month to Neville, Niemeyer thanked the judge, telling him: “You have been instrumental in the reconstruction of my life.”

While behind bars, Niemeyer would stay in shape by running in the small, rectangular yard at the county jail or at a state prison track where some inmates still remember him circling doggedly in his orange prison garb, Idaho Department of Correction director Brent Reinke said.

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

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