Dowie faces MS with grit and endurance

Be stronger than your strongest excuse.

A sign with this motto serves as motivation for the Ankeny CrossFit members who have risen before the sun to test their bodies’ limits. Matt Dowie ’14 joins them three or four mornings a week. He prefers the workouts that keep a steady pace; his endurance training as a center back for Northwestern’s soccer team taught him how to go the distance.

Holding a barbell at shoulder level, Dowie controls the substantial load and descends into a squat. He then rises to stand and presses the weight above his head. It’s a triumphant stance. The weight is heavy but does not crush him. He is strong enough to bear the burden.

He’ll do it over and over again.

The summer after graduating from NWC, Dowie noticed his gait was off during his daily runs. Something didn’t feel right, but eventually he was back to normal.

A few months later, while coaching a practice for Northwestern’s men’s soccer team, Dowie joined his players on the field and saw two balls instead of one, and twice as many teammates. An antibiotic seemed to correct Dowie’s double vision, and he stopped worrying.

And then the day came when Dowie felt numb, as if he had been soaking in an ice bath from the waist down. As an athlete, Dowie is very attuned to his body. This awareness and an athlete’s stamina explains how Dowie started for the Red Raiders all four years. And it’s what would bring him answers after four years of symptoms—a much shorter timeline than most people with his diagnosis typically experience.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. The immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, causing a range of debilitating symptoms. Inflammation periodically triggers a relapse, during which old symptoms are exacerbated or new ones occur.

By the time Dowie was diagnosed with MS in 2018, the day before his 26th birthday, he was expecting the bad news. An eye appointment had confirmed he had optic neuritis, a temporary loss of sight, which can be the first sign of MS. The other symptoms continued.

Everything he read seemed to emphasize the negative effects of MS—stress, flare-ups and having to rely on disability benefits instead of pursuing meaningful employment. People told his wife, Lauren, who was pregnant, to prepare for life without him. He wondered how long he’d be able to play catch with his son.

And then Dowie decided he could control the heavy load.

Taking up the extremely rigorous CrossFit workouts just after his diagnosis, Dowie became an advocate for exercise. He joined the board of MS Moments, an Iowa nonprofit that provides people living with MS the opportunity to afford health and wellness services, such as joining a gym.

“I was determined when I was diagnosed that I was going to continue to do the things I want to do,” Dowie says. “I wasn’t going to be one of those people who wallow. I have a lot of life to live. I have young kids. My life isn’t over.”

In the summer of 2021, Dowie will ride for 32 days across three states with Bike the US for MS to raise funds and awareness. Cyclists will perform service projects along the way, such as building accessibility ramps, and they’ll stop at clinics to present donation checks.


Adjusting the color schemes on his laptop provides more contrast between colors, which accommodates his vision changes and facilitates his work as a software engineer at Principal Financial Group. He’s stiff in the morning, and fatigue can often force him to retire soon after he and Lauren have put Hudson, 5, and Carter, 2, to bed. Once a month Dowie receives a treatment of an immunosuppressive drug; he’s been relapse-free since his diagnosis.

A tattoo of John 16:33 down his spine follows the path that MS has claimed: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Jesus’ reminder to his disciples that life isn’t going to be easy is Dowie’s motto, he says.

“MS is a hard diagnosis to get. It’s devastating for some people. For some reason, it hasn’t been that way for me; I’ve had peace beyond understanding. One day, I won’t have to deal with a body that’s failing and broken and attacks itself. One day, I will be perfect.”


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