Triathlon of Change: Leading Corrections Reform with Ironman Tenacity

As the CEO of Social Purpose Corrections and an Ironman triathlete training for my third race, my life revolves around two intense and transformative journeys. On one hand, I’m training to complete a 140.6-mile race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon. On the other, I’m leading efforts to revolutionize the culture of US corrections. Surprisingly, these two pursuits share more in common than one might think. Both demand vision, resilience, strategic planning, and community support.

Setting a Clear Vision

When I first committed to training for an Ironman, the finish line became my North Star. This vision of crossing the finish line fuels every training session, dietary choice, and recovery strategy. It’s this clarity of purpose that keeps me motivated through the inevitable tough days. Learning to swim as an older adult was particularly intimidating, but it was a necessary step toward achieving my goal.

Similarly, at Social Purpose Corrections, our vision is to transform the corrections system into one that prioritizes rehabilitation and societal reintegration over mere punishment. This vision drives every strategy in connections, team member selection, fundraising, political engagement, and convincing decision-makers that there is a better way. It’s about creating a system where individuals can truly change their lives, breaking free from the cycle of recidivism.

Building a Strategic Plan

An effective Ironman training plan is a complex puzzle of swim, bike, and run workouts. It evolves over time, with increasing intensity as race day approaches. Each element, from nutrition to rest periods, is meticulously planned to ensure peak performance.

In corrections, our strategy focuses on building the business toward proof of concept. This involves demonstrating the efficacy of our innovative approaches to rehabilitation and reintegration. We are dedicated to implementing evidence-based programs, developing comprehensive staff training, and creating educational and vocational opportunities for inmates. Like Ironman training, our plan is dynamic, adjusting to new research findings, policy changes, and feedback from stakeholders to ensure we are on the right path toward meaningful change.

Building Resilience and Overcoming Setbacks

The road to completing an Ironman is fraught with obstacles: injuries, mental fatigue, and occasional failures in training. Building resilience, learning to push through pain, and viewing setbacks as learning opportunities are crucial.

Changing a deeply entrenched system like corrections is no different. We face resistance from within the system, public skepticism, and bureaucratic hurdles. Cultivating resilience, using setbacks as learning experiences, and celebrating small victories help us maintain momentum and morale.

Fostering a Supportive Community

No Ironman athlete achieves their goal alone. Coaches, training partners, family, and friends provide essential support. This community offers encouragement, accountability, and practical assistance, making the journey more manageable and rewarding.

Similarly, transforming corrections culture requires a broad coalition of support. Policymakers, correctional staff, nonprofit organizations, and the community at large all play crucial roles. Building alliances with stakeholders and fostering a culture of collaboration are essential for sustainable change.

Measuring Progress and Celebrating Milestones

Regularly assessing progress is key in Ironman training. Tracking performance metrics, celebrating personal records, and adjusting training plans based on these insights provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

In Social Purpose Corrections, measuring progress involves moving our team forward, influencing stakeholders, and educating others while working toward proof-of-concept outcomes-based agreements. Celebrating milestones, such as funds raised and stakeholder engagement, helps highlight the impact of our work and maintain motivation.


While the challenges of training for an Ironman triathlon and transforming the culture of corrections through Social Purpose Corrections may seem worlds apart, they share fundamental similarities. Both require a clear vision, strategic planning, resilience, community support, and regular assessment of progress. By understanding these parallels, we can draw valuable insights into the process of driving meaningful change in any field.

As I continue my Ironman training and lead Social Purpose Corrections, I am constantly reminded of the power of perseverance, the importance of community, and the profound impact of a clear and compelling vision. Whether crossing the finish line of an Ironman or creating a more humane and effective corrections system, the journey is arduous but ultimately rewarding. The lessons learned in one journey invariably enrich the other, making me a stronger leader and athlete.

Brian Koehn is the Founder and CEO of Social Purpose Corrections.