In the Zone
A devotion to health and fitness keeps former Flyer Jim Dowd thriving, both on and off the ice
by Bill Donahue

To say Jim Dowd defied the odds is a huge understatement. Billed as 6 feet and 180 pounds—average stature for a professional athlete—Dowd learned to excel in a sometimes savage sport known for having its share of oversized brutes. Although he had a knack for making solid passing plays and scoring pretty goals, he credits another asset for his success as a gritty, defensive-minded forward on National Hockey League ice: perseverance. 

By the time his 17-year career ended following the 2007-08 season, he had worn the jerseys of 10 different teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers—an NHL record among American-born players. Yet there was a time when his career appeared to have stalled, at an age when most elite players tend to have their most productive seasons. In his late 20s, he reignited his career by making some slight but crucial adjustments, both on and off the ice, ultimately helping him rack up 728 games as a key role player in one of professional sports’ most unforgiving leagues.

A native of Brick, N.J., Dowd grew up with six siblings in a close-knit Catholic family, where sports—all sports, not just hockey—helped him hone his natural gifts and also taught him critical life lessons: perfect the fundamentals; work hard; fight for every inch. His devotion to being the best, combined with his working-class upbringing, shaped him into an elite athlete in high school, where he obliterated scholastic ice hockey records. He then matriculated to Lake Superior State University, and it was there he began crystallizing a future in which he could make a living playing the game he loved.

The 1987 NHL Entry Draft saw his hometown team, the New Jersey Devils, selecting him with the 149th pick overall. He opted to play all four years for Lake Superior State, helping the school’s hockey team win the 1988 NCAA championship. In 1991, he earned “Player of the Year” honors from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the NHL’s primary developmental circuit, the American Hockey League, and he wasted no time turning heads there.

When Dowd stepped onto NHL ice for the first time in a game during the 1991-92 season, he became the first Garden State native to play for the hometown franchise. For two more seasons, however, he ping-ponged between the NHL and AHL, suiting up mostly for the Devils’ farm club in Utica, N.Y.

“The easy part was getting to the NHL,” says Dowd, who now lives in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., a little more than an hour outside of Philadelphia, with his wife, Lisa, and their two sons. “The hard part was staying there. My whole life I was the leading scorer everywhere I played, but that changed when I got to the NHL. There comes a time when you realize you’re not the best anymore, so you put your ego aside. Sooner or later you’re not the first-line or second-line center, so you stick to the fundamentals of the position and play the best you can.”

His persistence paid off in 1995, when he helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup, the most coveted and hardest-earned trophy in professional sports. He remembers the win as the pinnacle of his career—before the carousel began. He played 28 games for the Devils the following season before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks. The next season he bounced back east to play three games for the New York Islanders before being returned to familiar territory: the minors.

“I was 28 years old and got sent back to the minors,” he says. “I said to my wife, ‘Listen, let’s give it one year and see if we get back up.’”

He succeeded in returning to the grand stage, and for this he credits a small yet dramatic shift in the way he approached his own health and fitness. He and Lisa began following what he calls “an all-organic way of living,” consuming only foods designated as “organic,” long before the term began making headlines in the United States. “We just wanted to get healthy,” he says. “We started doing that the year I got sent back down to the minors, and after making that change, I spent the next 12 years in the NHL.”

He made stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Minneapolis, Montreal, Chicago and Denver, then back to New Jersey for one more season as a Devil, before ending his playing career with the Flyers. Today he spends most of his time developing his business, which, incidentally, is rooted in health and wellness. As a founding member of IDLife LLC (, a company based in Frisco, Texas, he is doing his part to help others improve their health through individually designed nutrition.

Each IDLife customer must take a confidential health assessment that is compliant with HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Based on the assessment, IDLife suggests a combination of products bearing the IDLife brand—restorative items, energy drinks, appetite-control chews, nutritional supplements, etc.—made with high-quality, clinically researched ingredients. IDNutrition, for example, uses the science of chronobiology to assure that the body receives nutrients at the time of day when they will be most effective, delivered to the end user through convenient a.m. and p.m. vitamin packets.

Dowd appreciates the fact that IDLife products are organic and natural, contain no casein, soy, gluten or genetically modified organisms. Besides Dowd, other athletes have become affiliated with IDLife, including former NHL goaltender Marty Turco and retired National Football League quarterback Troy Aikman. While under contract to play for an organization, professional athletes benefit from having a team of trainers, nutritionists and other specialists devoted to making sure their bodies are getting the fuel they need to perform at a high level. Once they retire, however, those resources go away, meaning an athlete must learn the delicate balance of what his or her body needs—for physical performance as well as for overall health. This is why IDLife, with its customized approach to improving one’s weight, energy, sleeping patterns, energy and other essentials has gained traction so quickly.

“We have a product no one else has, and we’re making people’s lives better … so that’s right up my alley,” he says. “All the products are amazing, especially the energy drink; it’s the purest quality you can get. Since I’ve started taking [the products], my sleeping patterns are better and I feel more energized.”

He has also noticed other changes in his health. Both of his shoulders have been surgically repaired, and he used to take “heavy duty” anti-inflammatory prescriptions to treat the aches and pains. With help from the products prescribed to him through IDLife, those pains have since faded.

“I’m into an all-natural, all-organic way of living, and that’s what IDLife is,” he says. “It’s for anybody, not just athletes. My mom does it, and she’s 83, and so does my mother-in-law; they both feel amazing.”

Dowd was 41 years old when he retired from professional hockey. Although he spent only one season in Philadelphia, he recalls his time here fondly. He speaks glowingly of Flyers owner Ed Snider and current president Paul Holmgren, and he still participates in events for as part of the Philadelphia Flyers Alumni Association, proving the notion that any player to have worn the so-called flying P is “once a Flyer, always a Flyer.”

Dowd remains close to the game he loves. In fact, he is now sharing his vast reservoir of knowledge with hockey’s next generation. He recently took over the Manasquan-Point Pleasant Beach co-op ice hockey program, and he also coaches the Red Bank Generals youth hockey team. Between coaching and IDLife and his philanthropic work, he remains busier than ever—and his commitment to his own health has kept him just as energized as he was during his days patrolling the ice of NHL rinks.

“That last season with the Flyers, we lost in the conference finals [in the playoffs], and when it was over I thought, I can play another year,” he says. “You know you can still play, but there’s not a place for you anymore. It was tough to move on, but I don’t have any regrets.”

Photography by Felicia Perretti