From Junkie to Ironman

In 2001, German triathlete Andreas Niedrig finished second at Ironman Roth and seventh at Ironman Hawaii among many other results. Very few people though know that he was a serious heroin junkie before finding life and triathlon. His life has recently been featured in a movie called "Run for your life - from Junkie to Ironman" and Andreas was kind enough to share his story with the Slowtwitch readers. In the first part of this 2 part series Andreas recalls his life. We will then follow up with an interview in part 2.

ST: Your story isn’t known as well in other parts of the world as it is in Europe. Can you give us as a summary?

Andreas: I was born on October 12, 1967 in a small town called Oer-Erkenschwick in the heart of the Ruhr area and I experienced a fairly carefree childhood. By age 13 I was a good backstroke swimmer and had the dream to compete in the Olympic games one day. But for dreams to come true you have to fight for them and I didn’t do that. I got further away from my goals and at age 13 I started to smoke. That same year I smoked my first joint and quickly turned to harder drugs.
I thought everything was under control, but I slowly destroyed things around. School, friendships and sports meant nothing to me anymore. At the age of 18 I met my current wife Sabine, stopped using drugs and dreamt of a normal life. Sabine the love of my life gave me a new meaning and I had new objectives. Five months after we met, Sabine became pregnant and I felt something in me I had never felt before - pride. I was a proud father and was happy with Sabine, but did not think that I would have to be responsible too. I had never been responsible before and now I was going to be a dad. With the birth of our daughter Jana, the responsibilities and the expectations became too great and I turned back to drugs. Everything went downhill fast. Heroin gave me the feeling of control. Heroin took away the fear of responsibility. But I also took heroin just for pure joy. For half a year I could keep my addiction secret from Sabine, but I overdosed and they found me unconscious in the bathroom with a syringe in one of my arms. She immediately gave me a choice: treatment or I would have to go elsewhere.
I chose drugs and lived 8 months on the road. Drugs and crime became my daily life. I needed 3 to 4 grams a day to avoid withdrawal and with a market value of roughly $120 per gram at the time, my criminal offenses were getting worse and I got increasingly in trouble with the police.

The prosecutor's office and my wife Sabine then gave me another ultimatum, therapy or 4 years in prison, therapy or divorce. I chose the therapy. In the first three months, I still thought about drugs but I also slowly had more of a desire for life. When Sabine visited me for the first time with our daughter Jana and told me that I could come back if I stayed with the program, I knew what I wanted. Clean and a normal life, that is what I now desired. The life of a “Spiessbuerger” with a family, a house and a tree planted in the garden. After 14 months of therapy, I came back to a "normal" life and I fought where I could. For about three years I was an unskilled worker and sorted rocks in a quarry. Then I learned the trade of an orthopedic mechanic and finished my high school diploma.
I was already 26 when I started with running and I quickly noticed that I have a certain talent for endurance sport. After three months of training I did my first marathon and finished it in 2:43. Three months later I did my first Olympic distance triathlon and finished 13th. I now set my mind on a new goal - professional triathlon. Two years later I was 7th at the long-distance world championships in Nice. Two months after that, I did my first Ironman and I guess 8:07 wasn’t so shabby for such a newcomer. My athletic successes got media attention and slowly more and more of my past was revealed. But before the media published our story (ours, because it is the story of my wife, my daughter and I), I wrote a book about our lives. I never expected though that our lives would be so interesting for the public. Today it is nice to see that our life story gives other people the hope that something positive can come even from the most difficult situations. I currently have several projects launched including the establishment of my own foundation.