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SPOKANE, Wash. – Sam Dowd was a standout basketball and football player at Gonzaga Prep a few years ago.
Then, after two years at North Idaho College, Dowd nabbed his dream of playing Division 1 basketball with a full ride scholarship to Idaho State. It is remarkable given that Dowd is just 5’7” tall. What is even more remarkable is his back story and now it has people across the nation honoring his courage.
"I think about what I've been through,” Dowd said. “It think about how hard it was.”
They say adversity breeds character and Dowd conveys character in every move.
“I think that’s what drives me,” he said.
There’s much more than muscle memory that launches the Idaho State player to the rim.
“When I was about 10 or 11, I was pretty much abandoned,” he said.
Dowd was a young boy in Tacoma when his parents, mired in addiction, turned their backs and sent him to live on the street. For years, the little boy bounced from one friend’s couch to the next, trying to grab a meal anywhere he could. Some nights, there were no invitations and the kid with the solid lay-up simply slept outside.
“Just being in poverty, being alone, being abandoned. I think basketball is that filler,” he explained.
Basketball came through with the ultimate assist. Dowd’s club team was his one constant through which he eventually met players from Spokane. At the beckoning of one kind family, he enrolled at Gonzaga Prep for his sophomore year. When that summer arrived, it was time to find a new homes. That is when two angels dropped into his life.
Six years ago, Ron and Jill Miller not only gave then 16-year-old Dowd a home, they were proud to officially become his parents too.
"It was just, I don't know, it was meant to be," Jill said.
"He can depend on the family now, which is us,” Ron explained.
They adopted Dowd, whose baby picture now hangs in the Miller's home.
"It actually was stained so I took it to a photo place and had it restored so it hangs up with my other two kids and their baby pictures," Jill said.
"Kind of looking from this picture to me it's like I just wouldn't want another child or anybody to go through what I've been through," Dowd said.
"I don't think you would ever know if you were around him what he had been through in his life. And so I think when people hear a little bit about it they're just so amazed that he was where he was homeless and has come so far. Has been able to achieve so much," Jill explained.
The National Basketball Writers Association agrees, which is why they recently awarded Sam their national "Most Courageous Award" at this ceremony in San Antonio. Ron and Jill were there as their son was presented the prestigious award. They were there to hear his heartfelt thanks.
"First thank my family. Ron Miller, Jill Miller who changed my life. Sacrificing, putting in effort to change my life completely. I just want to thank you guys. I love you," Dowd said in his speech.
Dowd believes the Miller's saved his life, figuratively and perhaps even literally.
"Man I feel like I'd be just on the streets, maybe in Seattle or Tacoma, and just not in a good situation. Like maybe in jail or dead," Dowd explained.
Instead, Dowd worked to excel in school and proved, with larger-than-life determination, a 5'7" tall player can make it in college hoops. And having family in the crowd? That's an amazing feeling, second only to the feeling of coming home.
"And he'll always know he can always come back here. Whenever he wants in his life," Ron said.
"I always tell him you are just sunshine in my life because he is. He's just been a joy," Jill explained.
Probably because Dowd consistently choses joy and rejects resentment of his past.
"I just don't want to be like, ‘Oh that shouldn't have happened to me.’ Nah, I think it made me who I am today," he said.
Who he is today is a grateful young man who will undoubtedly have more hurdles to climb and conquer.
"He will do great in life. We just know that for a fact," Ron explained.
Dowd will not get bogged down when life brings trouble or tears. After all, he has been there.
"You can get through anything, it doesn't matter what it is. You can be at your all-time low but your life can change really fast," Dowd said.
Just choose joy and believe in the power of positivity.
"Yeah, I'm always going to keep smiling,” Dowd said with laughter.
KREM 2 would like to thank Idaho State University for sharing radio calls, photos and video of Sam Dowd.