A minister pushes himself to Ironman lengths

Barbara Hootman

Forty-year-old Jeff Dowdy has found a powerful combination for making his life fulfilling. He has combined competitive athletics with being a church pastor. He is currently at First Baptist Church Swannanoa.

In October he competed in the Ironman Triathlon in Wilmington and is already training for the next one this year. He has spent the past five years training for the Ironman Triathlon competition.

“Some of my congregation members think I am crazy, but they followed the Ironman competition on their phones,” he said.

Dowdy is from the small east Texas town of Carthage. He grew up enjoying hunting, riding horses, and raising animals for local livestock shows. He was an Eagle Scout by the age of 14 and physically active during his college years playing sports. He stopped exercising in his mid 20s.

Last October Dowdy reached one of his life goals by finishing the Ironman triathlon competition before his 40th birthday. The Ironman competition is a series of three long-distance races - a 2- to 4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in order and without a break. The 17-hour long race is considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

“I finished the Wilmington Ironman (PPD-Beach to Battleship) in 10 hours and 42 minutes,” Dowdy said. “I placed 27th out of 650 competitors, and fourth in my age group, becoming an Ironman. The race did not carry the Ironman brand last October, but it has been purchased by the Ironman brand now. My goal for next year is to finish second or third so I can qualify to go to Hawaii and compete for the world championship.

“When I stopped exercising my weight reached well over 200 pounds,” he said. “Life happened in my 20s. I got married, stopped exercising and pursued my academic degrees. I’ve lost about 50 pounds getting in shape to compete.”

Dowdy attended Houston Baptist University and earned a bachelor of science in speech communications and Christianity. While attending Southwestern Theological Seminary, he served as a youth pastor. He also earned a Masters of Divinity with an emphasis in Biblical languages. While serving as a youth pastor in Deland, Florida (for nine years), he ran a sprint race.

While training and running, Dowdy prays, putting his “alone time” to good use, he said. He also often talks from the pulpit about his passion for athletic competition and training.

“I have a calling to exercise just as much as I do to preach,” he said. “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I want to keep mine in as good a shape as I can to see the Lord for as long as I can. Usually I exercise from 4 -5 a.m. daily, and I’m in the office at the church by 9 a.m. and there until about 6 p.m. The daily discipline is good for my body and mind. When I am not working out, my stress level goes up, my work ethic diminishes and I get lethargic.

“When I was a young minister in my 20s and 30s in Florida, I did a lot of visitations with sick church members. I was calling on 60- and 70-year-old people. I heard over and over how they wished they had done something good for their bodies when they were younger. That made an impression on me because they were talking about themselves when they were the age I was then.”

Dowdy said his health and exercise regime impacts his ability to serve the Lord.

“I have held ‘Run for God’ lectures for teams running 5K races,” he said. “I want to be fit and help others to be fit. Our culture contributes to many people being overweight and obese. Obesity has become acceptable in our culture which is sedentary.

“I preach two services back to back at First Baptist Church Swannanoa every Sunday and never feel stressed,” he said. “I handle a lot of problems for other people. My daily workouts help me manage the stress.”

Dowdy works out and trains for competition alone, but credits his wife, Melody, with providing him with personal support.

“I support Jeff in fulfilling the goals he set five years ago to finish an Ironman Contest before his 40th birthday,” Melody Dowdy, a teacher, said. “He has always been good at not only setting goals for himself, but for our family as well, and reaching those goals. I want him to be happy, and then I am happy as well. The kids (Keaton and Gentry Rose) are proud of him. The kids and I were there on the sidelines in Wilmington cheering him on.”

Dowdy doesn’t have a special diet that he follows while in training other than restricting carbohydrates and eating high-protein foods to keep from losing muscle mass during competition.

Dowdy writes a blog about triathlon training at

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