She hangs out with celebrities and athletes. She speaks on a first name basis with political heavyweights. And she’s the best neighbor anyone could ever have.
BJ Dowlen, a lifelong Brick resident who graduated from Brick Township High School, will make her debut on the Home Shopping Network next month with her Bodyworks Ball, a pain-relief device that has revolutionized life for sports figures as well as everyday people. But beyond her newfound stardom is a woman who embraces life, lives for the next opportunity and puts every ounce of energy she has toward helping others.
Dowlen, a resident of the township’s Baywood section, is a quiet star. Her tenacity has propelled her to notoriety by way of Oprah Winfrey, Ray Lewis and others, but her Brick roots have made her an equally regarded celebrity among her friends, who she has fought for day-in and day-out, since Superstorm Sandy devastated their neighborhood in 2012.
“I’m just trying to be a voice,” Dowlen said in an interview with Shorebeat. “One word I use to describe myself is relenetless. That applies to business, to Sandy and to life.”
Born with her legs reversed, Dowlen grew up facing surgeries, challenges and, above all, pain. Overcoming the odds, she became a partner in a major American exporting company based in New Jersey, but while her job paid the bills, her passion was helping others overcome the pain she once faced.
She started Bodyworks in 1999, while still working her day job, with the goal of imparting her series of pain-relieving exercise techniques to a broad audience.
“When you grow up that way, and the fascia on your body doesn’t grow as it should, it becomes an interest,” Dowlen said. “My passion was always working with people, athletes, so I would do events and donate my time to working with athletes’ charities for children.”
One of the athletes to first embrace her philosophy was NFL star Ray Lewis, who had her help with his stretches and invited her to work with the inner city kids who he hosted every summer in his football camps.
“He opened the door for me,” Dowlen recalled.
The product that would take the nation by storm wasn’t even in Dowlen’s mind back then. It took an oddly stressful pedicure session – filled with nonstop phone calls and text messages after Sandy – to illuminate the proverbial lightbulb.
“I was getting text message after text message,” Dowlen said, including some from star athletes complaining about stiff necks and back pain after staying in some of the highest priced hotels in America.
“I thought, ‘this guy makes all this money and stays at the best of the best of hotels, and there’s nothing he can use.’”
“My mind started racing, and right after my pedicure I bought a massage chair pad and took it apart,” she said. “I watched the ball go back and forth all night and the next day I started making prototypes.”
The result: the Bodyworks Ball, a self-massage tool that has been used by her athlete friends and people across the world to relieve pain in the back and elsewhere, and soothe overworked and tweaked muscles. Her product has been a miracle cure for her customers, who have raved about it in online reviews.
But outside of the business success story is a story of success in life. Dowlen practices good business and a good life, a combination that has won her fans from Oprah Winfrey to Shark Tank’s Daymond John.
After Sandy struck Brick, Dowlen decided to focus all her time on the Bodyworks Ball.
“After Sandy, I thought that life is too short not to do what I love, 100 percent of the time,” she said. “I just took that giant leap of faith.”
Since then, she has written a book with Janet Jackson’s personal trainer and appeared at a speaking event with actor Steve Harvey.
“Steve Harvey said, ‘when you take a leap of faith, it’s going to hurt,'” Dowlen said, recalling his talk at an appearance. “The next time I saw him, he asked, ‘how are those scrapes and scars?’”
“I try to get advice from as many people as I come across,” said Dowlen. “Depending who I’m with, I’ll always ask for life advice, business advice, and just try to absorb it in.”
Sandy presented Dowlen with the biggest life challenge of all time. Her home, like many of her neighbors’ homes in the Baywood section, was flooded when the barrier island breached at the Mantoloking Bridge. Her neighbors, at the height of the storm’s wrath, turned to her for safety.
“When that breach occurred, it hit like a tsunami wave,” said Dowlen. “It exploded up through the floor boards. We tried to discuss a plan as to what to do if the house collapsed because the currents were so strong – we talked about how we’d lock arms and put the animals under our jackets.”
Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but Dowlen did have to be rescued by township emergency responders the following morning. To this day, she is still going back-and-forth with FEMA and insurance companies to repair her home.
“We are so proud of our neighbor,” said Beth, a Brick resident who lives near Dowlen.
Dowlen, quietly, used her tenacious personality to reach out to Gov. Chris Christie and then-mayor Cory Booker, who was expected to run for U.S. Senate, in the wake of the storm. She became especially close with Booker, with whom she spoke about the real suffering going on west of the beaches and boardwalks that were celebrated as success stories the summer after the storm.
“It was really a thorn in my side that he was going to do an event on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights instead of going three streets in and seeing how people were suffering,” said Dowlen.
Booker, she said, eventually decided to cancel the boardwalk press event and meet for hours with residents. He has quietly visited with her and a few others.
“He gets it,” she said of the Senator.
Dowlen has since taken numerous trips to Washington, D.C., advocating for Sandy victims. She keeps in touch with elected officials, members of the press and others in hopes of making disaster recovery an easier process in the future. She hopes to, one day, start a program to fund disaster relief efforts from a fund monitored by reliable people who will safeguard funding for those in need.
Her business took off even stronger after she dedicated her full efforts to Bodyworks after the storm. Her product was featured at a Super Bowl party in New York City when the game was held at MetLife Stadium, where it was noticed by “Shark Tank” star Daymond John.
“I was put in the corner, and I viewed it as an opportunity,” Dowlen said.
A deal wasn’t ultimately struck with John, but she has kept in touch with him as a mentor and a friend. Investors, at times, have been tough to find due to her dedication to keep her product completely American made, but that, in and of itself, has drawn accolades and notoriety.
Last December, she was featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, as one of the products that will “keep you healthy in 2016.” Dowlen recently struck a deal with Brookstone and, next month on May 2, will begin appearing on the Home Shopping Network.
Dowlen, of course, remains humble, positive, and poised to always help others looking to make it.
“Rejection is one of my favorite words,” Dowlen said, smiling and laughing. “Just in 2014, I was rejected 4,000 times. But I always said, you have to be relentless. It’s never one break. It’s always one thing that leads to another, that leads to another.”