From Wheelchair to Running: Ian Bowen’s Story

From Wheelchair to Running: Ian Bowen’s Story
By: Caitlin Vanlaningham Last Updated: January 24, 2016

Ian Bowen, owner of Pumps Fitness, has been helping people on their healthful journeys for a long time. But do you know the man behind the Pilates Reformer and how he got to where he is now?

Bowen was born and raised in Burnsville, MN. He was an active child, playing soccer and tennis, downhill skiing, etc.

“I was always into sports. At about age 10 really got into soccer so that became my main sport that I played year round, so I’ve always had roots in sports,” he said.

He injured his tailbone during his sophomore year and when he went to try out for the following season he wasn’t able to perform like he used to. He was determined to make varsity his senior year. He worked out in a home gym that his parents had kindly purchased for him two hours a day and made the team, and that year his team went to, and won, the state championship.

Valparaiso University was his college of choice. He studied Communications and continued to play soccer. After his freshman year he stopped playing soccer, but still continued to work out.

“I enjoyed being fit. I played soccer with the parks department and I started running after my sister-in-law introduced me to it,” Bowen said. “I couldn’t play soccer anymore due to some muscle tears.”

In the Spring of 2009 Bowen began to experience a strange tingling sensation in his right thigh. Bowen worked for Indiana Beverage at the time, and Indiana Beverage is very community oriented. Bowen and a group from his company were participating in a Rebuilding Together project in Valparaiso, and he thought that the tingling sensation might have been caused by him brushing up against some poison ivy while at the build site. A few weeks went by and the tingling sensation spread through his entire leg. He also had severe pain in his chest.

“I knew something wasn’t right and when I went to my doctor she agreed with me,” Bowen said. “I got an MRI and it came back inconclusive. They said that something was there on my spine but they didn’t know what it was. I got another MRI with contrast.”


Between MRIs he began having trouble moving around.

“I could stand up from my chair, but I couldn’t move after I stood up,” Bowen said. “After my second MRI results came back, the doctors found a lesion on my spinal cord that was causing inflammation… My doctor sent me to Mayo Clinic and there they did a spinal tap, MRIs, they took other crazy tests and they think they knew what I had but they wanted to make sure.”

Bowen’s doctors at Mayo Clinic thought that he either had a rare form of sarcoidosis called neurosarcoidosis or a tumor. The lesion was in between his shoulder blades, intertwined with the tissue of his spinal cord, and the last test they performed was a biopsy which was very risky given that the lesion was mixed up in the spinal cord tissue and one small slip could cause paralysis.

“I went ahead with the surgery and when I came to afterward, the doctors said that the good news was that it was sarcoidosis and that it was treatable. The bad news was that I was paralyzed from the chest down,” Bowen said.

This was in June 2009. Bowen naively thought that he was going to get back on his feet quickly and started physical therapy at Mayo Clinic. He had to relearn how to walk, nurses had to turn his body over every few hours, and he couldn’t use the bathroom on his own.

“I went from a wheelchair to a walker, walker to two canes, and I had ankle braces on because I couldn’t feel my feet and I was rolling my ankles all the time. Then I had only one cane, and then finally I was able to walk without assistance. This took a year and a half,” Ian said. “I still had to really concentrate in order to walk.”

Bowen was told that he would never run again. He proved that notion wrong by sticking with his physical therapy and accepting the support of his family in friends. In his very first race after the lesion biopsy he made it a mile using a walker and his ankle braces.

“It was exhausting,” Ian said. “But I had the support of my family and friends, and my employer really supported me through this entire ordeal. The Leetz family is amazing and gave me all the time I needed to recover… I knew that there was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair. I have two kids and a lovely wife to take care of, so I was determined to have a positive attitude and get back to where I was.”

Little by little, Bowen got his strength back and was able to walk on his own. And one day while he was at the Valparaiso YMCA on his lunch break, he had an “Aha” moment.

“I decided that I wanted to become a personal trainer. People who saw my progression would come to me and say I inspired them. If I can do that for complete strangers, I can help other people get healthy,” Bowen said. “So I got my certification and worked at the YMCA and then came to Pumps Fitness and I was hired on here. Not too long after the owner offered to sell Pumps to me.”

In early February 2014, Bowen and his wife, Michelle, became owners of Pumps Fitness. A big focus was put on restorative fitness. Small group classes, Pilates, RESET, Reiki, TRX suspension training, and more are available to anyone who wants to get their health on the right track.

“Just knowing what it’s like to fight that battle and what it’s like to lose your health really motivates me to help people,” Bowen said. “I can’t emphasize it enough with my clients to take care of their health because once it’s gone it’s very hard to get it back.”

You can go meet the man himself, just head into Pumps Fitness and you’ll find Ian Bowen helping someone on their journey to better health.