Janis Hape Dowd

March 7, 2021

Janis Hape Dowd, the daughter of Diana Cabonargi Hape and the late James Marshall Hape, died peacefully in Charlotte on March 7, 2021 surrounded by her family. She was 62 years old.

A native of Gary, Indiana, Janis was born on March 10, 1958 and showed early promise as a competitive swimmer at the Sewickley Valley YMCA in suburban Pittsburgh, Totem Lake Swim Club in Kirkland, Washington, and at the nation’s premier swim club, Mission Viejo Nadadores in southern California. In high school she became a top international breaststroker and as a senior at West Genesee High School in Camillus, New York, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team. She represented her country at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal where she competed in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke and recorded her best time.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Janis competed in the breaststroke and in the 200- and 400-yard medley relays. She was named All-American her freshman and sophomore years and set school records in the 50, 100 and 200-yard breaststroke events. She qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow but was denied a chance to compete when the U.S. boycotted the games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Following her graduation from UNC in 1980 she moved to Charlotte and with her friend Kathy Horvath opened a popular aerobics studio, Exercise Plus, which they ran together until 1993. On May 11, 1991, Janis married Frank Dowd IV, enjoying almost three decades of happy marriage.

A lifelong fitness buff, Janis was a familiar sight at the YMCA and yoga studio or at the swimming pool, walking, biking, and swimming when she wasn’t on her elliptical trainer. She maintained a wide network of friends from her days as an Olympian, college swimmer, proprietor of Exercise Plus and a mom active in the lives of her three children.  The children all attended Charlotte Country Day School and Janis developed many close friendships there.  Janis believed that her greatest accomplishment was the life she built with her children and husband and will be remembered for her boundless energy, loving spirit, authenticity and big smile, one who “lit up the room” with her presence.  Despite her sudden illness and passing, her legacy will live on through her husband, children, extended family and many friends across the country.

In recent years Frank honored Janis by funding the Janis Hape Dowd Nike Invitational which features a number of the country’s top collegiate swimming programs in a multi-day competition hosted by UNC at its Koury Natatorium. In 2019 she was inducted into the North Carolina Swimming Hall of Fame.

Janis and Frank spent many happy summers at Figure 8 Island near Wilmington and recently winters at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fl. In the last decade the family travelled extensively, visiting Africa, Australia, Peru, Fiji, Italy, Greece and the Galapagos Islands.

Janis was predeceased by a brother, Gary Hape. In addition to her mother and husband, she is survived by a son, Willis Frank Dowd V; twin daughters, Diana Worth Dowd and Sally Carson Dowd; a brother, Jeff Hape (Suzie) and their two children.

A two-time survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Janis was a fighter despite the toll the chemotherapy and radiation took on her body, finally succumbing to heart failure. The family wishes to thank the team at Carolinas Medical Center and the Sanger Clinic and the doctors and nurses in its cardiac ICU unit where she received caring and expert care in her last days.

Due to Covid, a private family memorial service will be held at 2:00 PM on Saturday, March 13, 2021.   Please join the family via Livestream at https://www.myersparkbaptist.org/live-webcast/

A larger celebration of Janis’ life will be held once restrictions are lifted.

Memorial gifts may be made to UNC Swimming and Diving Operating Endowment, c/o the UNC Educational Foundation, P.O. Box 2446, Chapel Hill, NC, 27515 (phone 919-843-2000).

Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth W. Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Ave., Charlotte, NC; 28204 (704) 641-7606. Online condolences can be shared at www.kennethpoeservices.com.

Share your memories & condolences


  • Valerie Schmieder

    My relationship with Janis goes way back to her Exercise Plus days. She was a wonderful inspiration to her students. I adored her and have always held her in my heart.

  • Greg and Carole Johnson

    So sorry to hear about the passing of Janis Dowd. She lived well and has left a great model for all of us to positively impact our world. May God comfort the family during this time and in the days ahead.
    Greg and Carole Johnson

  • Zoe Kirby

    Mark and I are so shocked and sad to hear of Janis’ sudden death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you, Frank, Wil, Sally and Diana. We shared some great vacations and memories which will be cherished! A donation will be made.

  • Alan & Judi Tingler

    Frank, we were so sorry to hear about Janis. She was a very special person Please know we are thinking about you and your family.

  • Andrew Barnes

    Janis was a Superstar. Personality, intelligence, grace, accomplishment. I’m just glad I had a chance to cross paths.

  • Baba Barnett

    Janis was such a shining light. I’ll miss seeing her on the beach at Figure8 and am glad I got to have a visit with her not too long ago. Sending so much love to Frank and the kids. You’re in our hearts as is Janis.

  • Dave Cable

    Heartfelt condolences to Frank and the entire Dowd family on the loss of Janis, a beautiful person in all dimensions and a giving soul.

  • Brandon Bigelow and Tracey Blueman

    Very sorry to hear of your family's loss. Condolences from the Bigelow family.

  • María Elena Conaway

    I am so sorry about Janis passing. Today service was beautiful. Janis always made you feel so special. I will never forget her kind and beautiful smile since I met her at Country Day when my son David joined her twins at the JK ice cream party! I always had something to share with her since I am an identical twin and she had her twins. I know you will miss her immensely and I will miss seeing her beautiful smile.

  • Holly Cluett Gwynne-Timothy

    Dear Frank and family. We were so sorry to hear of Janis' passing; our hearts go out to you all and our prayers also. As a UNC swim alumna (modest status, from 1982), I receive all the UNC swim emails. I can attest that my inbox has been swollen with the most moving testimonials from UNC swimmers about Janis.
    With fond regards,
    Holly C. Gwynne-Timothy

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