Athletic director Ryan Bowles came to St. Olaf in 2015 after spending 12 years as an associate athletic director at the University of Maryland. Although St. Olaf is a Division III school compared to the University of Maryland’s Division I, Bowles had many reasons to come to St. Olaf.
Bowles was a student athlete in college. He went to McDaniel College, a Division III school, and played soccer there. He always knew he wanted to pursue sports, especially after getting involved in the athletic department at McDaniel.
Bowles still remembers trying to get a job at the weight room his first year – he was a day too late, so he was offered a job in the athletic department instead.
“Immediately, I was hooked,” Bowles said. “I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
After working as a graduate assistant, Bowles started an internship at the University of Maryland. He remembers starting out his internship decorating a hall with old photos, but by the end of his time at the University of Maryland, he was supervising 13 sports.
Bowles loved working at a Division I school in his home state, but he faced some challenges by the end of his tenure.
“It’s really great to work at your dream school since day one,” Bowles said. “But philosophically, myself and Division I were going different places. Division I is really turning into a big business and has lost the amateurism of sport.”
Returning to his Division III roots, Bowles took a job at St. Olaf on the Title IX Team. He immediately saw a difference between the University of Maryland and St. Olaf.
“Here, it’s true amateur sports, and really very pure,” he said.
In May of 2018, Bowles was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Rectal Cancer. He started treatment at Mayo Clinic, had surgery on Oct. 4 of that year and wore a temporary bag for six months following the surgery. He has been cancer-free since.
Bowles said that he was glad he went through his treatment during his time at St. Olaf.“Maryland is my home,” he said.
“But there’s no place I would rather have been than here to go through my journey with cancer because the community here is wonderfully supportive,” Bowles continued.
Bowles tells his teams about his journey with cancer. Every fall before the season starts, he sits down with each team and talks about his goals and expectations. His experiences dealing with and defeating cancer are included in this discussion.
Mainly, Bowles tells the teams about his cancer story because he believes in “the power of positivity.” Additionally, he goes over respect, inclusivity and sportsmanship as goals for the teams.
Inclusivity is Bowles’ priority for the athletic department.
“My number one dream for the athletic department is to be a place where our student athletes can show up and be their true authentic selves,” he said. “We’re not perfect, we’re not there yet, but the more we talk about it, the more our actions reflect it.”
Two more goals that Bowles has are for the school to have more “Ole pride” and “increased competitive success.” He wants students to “walk with swagger” when it comes to St. Olaf sports.
Ultimately, Bowles came to St. Olaf for the athletes. His daily goal is to make sure that every person playing sports at St. Olaf loves the game as much as he does.
“Ideally, when they come to practice, I want it to be the best two hours of their day.”