Transformation

This Scranton Construction Worker Does Yoga to Stay Limber for His Cross-Country Mountain Bike Races

Dennis Knowlton says yoga was the key to successfully biking 4,200 miles across the country.


construction bike yoga

Construction worker Dennis Knowlton turned to yoga to help him endure bike races that are thousands of miles long. / Photograph courtesy Dennis Knowlton

Who I am: Dennis Knowlton, 68, of Scranton

What I do: I’m a construction worker, and I own the company Knowlton & Sons Masonry.

In my mind, one transformation leads to another.

My first transformation started when I really wanted to hang out with my kids ‘cuz they were mountain biking, so I started riding the bike. Gosh, I got this mountain bike, and I realized what terrible shape I was in. My spirits were dampened a lot. I kept riding anyhow, and a couple years later, as time went on, I started eating healthier. I didn’t quit eating, mind you. One thing led to another, and I ended up getting in pretty good shape.

Then I started competing. What happened is, I had a goal of riding my bike from Florida to Pennsylvania, which I did. But just before I went on that trip, I was riding with my son, and he goes, ‘Hey, Dad, did you ever hear of the Trans Am Bike Race?’ I said, ‘No, what the heck is that?’ He threw a movie in front of me that was about this self-supported, 4,200-mile race from Oregon to Virginia. I watched this movie — I’m still in my biking clothes — and sat there laughing. He said, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘Now this ride from Florida is a training ride. This is what I want to do right here.’

construction bike yoga

Knowlton began mountain biking to spend more time with his kids. Now he competes in cross-country rides. / Photograph courtesy YC Media

Here’s where the yoga comes in. I rode up from Florida, and I had a successful ride, but one of my bad things was I’d stay in a hotel every night. I’d fall asleep no problem, but two or three hours later, I’d wake up, and my legs would be jumping all over the place. I had restless leg syndrome terrible. When I signed up for the Trans Am race, I said, ‘I need to do everything I can to deal with this.’

I knew Jake Panasevich’s father, Mike, real well. I was out riding one day, and I come by his house and stopped to chat for a couple minutes and he said his son Jake is down in Philly and real big into yoga. When I was doing the Trans Am race , I called Mike up and said, ‘Could you hook me up with your son?’ I’d go down to Philly to visit my daughter, who’s a ballet dancer at the Rock School, and do yoga while I was down there.

Jake does “broga” — yoga for men. I tell ya, nothing against women yoga teachers, they’re very good, but I haven’t found one yet that understands that us guys can’t bend like you girls. And it was super because we did privates to start with. When I go to the gym, I get so competitive that my technique would go right out the window. But, with Jake, I made up my mind to just listen, calm down, and do it correctly. Jake’s adamant about alignment and where you place your hands, getting your fingers spread and flat and your knees and legs straight, depending on the pose. It would be comical because he’d have me in one pose, and my fingers would be crunched up, and he’d be touching my fingers and pushing them out. I was always laughing.

When it was getting closer to my race, I would bring my bike down to Philly, and Jake would watch me ride. We’d go out onto the street, and he’d show me different positions, making suggestions to make it easier on my body. You’re on the bike for a long time so you’ve got to conserve energy any way you can.

I did the Trans Am race in 30 days. I rode about 140 miles a day on average. I came in 44 out of 116 guys that started. I was the oldest guy by far, and I was very proud of that. But it was really hilarious because some of the climbs were six, eight, 10 miles long. Not real steep, but they were long and taxing. My hip would hurt, so I would get off and do some yoga. And these young guys are coming by, and they’re all kind of laughing like, ‘This old man’s doing this yoga.’

construction bike yoga

Knowlton would frequently hop off his bike during his 4,200-mile ride and drop into poses such as up dog. / Photograph courtesy Dennis Knowlton

Yoga got me across the country, I’ll tell you. Not only did it make me way more flexible but also as long as I did a little yoga at night before I went to bed, I would sleep like a baby. No restless leg syndrome.

I don’t do as much lately as I would like to; I’m caught on this darn job, and I’m really, really working my butt off here to get this thing done ‘cuz I am signed up for another cross-country ride at the end of May.

The other construction guys think yoga is great, but if we could only get them to join in…We think ‘cuz we’re strong we’re in good shape, but we don’t realize we have no flexibility and no cardio. That’s where yoga comes in. That’s where the biking comes in. When I added those, they rounded me out physically.

I don’t do yoga perfect — I don’t bend really well — but I’m more aware, and I really appreciate what Jake has taught me. I don’t know that yoga or functional training or anything will make me way faster on the bike. But I would argue that it will keep me on the bike way longer.

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