In for the Long Run
Dennis Jones has got it figured out. And by ‘it,’ we mean life, and how to keep moving day after day, for 58 years and counting.
As both the owner of Wheel Works on Plant Street and a seasoned triathlete, Dennis has built his life around keeping his mind active, his body healthy, and most importantly, his attitude right. You could try to call him “over the hill,” but to Dennis, the hill is just part of the course.
Born to Run
“At a young age, my parents got me into activities; whatever I was interested in. I was constantly busy with basketball and wrestling, and I was also on the swim team. Keeping active as a kid just rolled into my adult life.”
This type of attitude does not just come naturally; it must be cultivated. For Dennis, the cultivation was literal. “In my teenage years, I worked on my grandfather’s dairy farm. Ten-, twelve-hour days were the norm. It was hard work, but I loved being busy.”
Joining the military at age 18 further honed those skills and layered in the core component to what Dennis considers the key to his success—discipline.
“In the military, discipline is a way of life. It starts at boot camp, of course, with physical discipline. Later, it becomes mental. There are things I enjoy about both, but fitness is a passion that definitely developed during that time. We all stayed fit, and that just carried over into the rest of my life.”
It was also during this time that Dennis discovered a passion for racing motorcycles.“Adrenaline, speed, and danger—what 20-year-old military guy doesn’t love that?” he laughs. “Many of these guys were riding mountain bikes in between work and races, to stay in shape.”
But that wasn’t enough for the vigorous athlete. “They had a triathlon on the base. I signed up on a whim and was like, ‘Oh wow, that was kind of fun!’ So then I went straight away to the bike shop, got a triathlon bike, and just started doing as many as I could fit into my schedule.”
The craziest part? It really was that simple. But, as Dennis would say with a knowing grin, outlook is everything. Training for triathlons not only fostered Dennis’s driven mind, but also kept his focus sharp.
“In triathlon, there are three disciplines—run, bike, swim—so you don’t really get stuck into one. There’s no time to get bored. Plus, you’re always trying to beat your best time, your personal records. It’s just you against the clock most of the time.”
Isn’t that the truth? Time continues to move forward, whether you’re ready or not. “I always think about how life is so short; you never know what’s going to happen, so you might as well enjoy what you’re doing. Whether it’s work or play— enjoy it.”
Running on Empty
Maintaining this insanely active lifestyle when you’re in your twenties is one thing. But as the decades passed, Dennis discovered that rigorous training begged for rest time in between. “I used to do a lot of back-to-back workouts, two workouts in one day. With age comes a need for recovery, and a lot of people don’t take time for that. Often, recovery is just as important as the exercise itself. You’ve got to let your body recoup and reenergize for the next time. Things have changed; I don’t work out quite as often, and I have more recovery time than I used to, but I’m still doing it.”
Don’t think for one second, however, that “recovery” means kicking back. “Sitting still is hard for me. My metabolism is high, and I’m always itching to stay busy. It’s hard for me to sit down and watch a movie or something sedentary, because I’m always wanting to move. I need to keep moving.”
Dennis’s idea of “rest day” is closely related to “working vacation”—his words. Think Energizer Bunny, only with a bike instead of a drum. If he’s at the shop, he’s doing two or three things at the same time. That’s why you usually find him bouncing between Wheel Works’ three locations, his youthful demeanor welcoming, and maybe a little daunting, to less active employees, coworkers, friends, and clients.
Up and Running
Once Dennis starts the race, he must finish it. That’s the case for racing motorcycles, mountain bikes, triathlons, and it’s certainly the case behind his thriving business. “I always knew what I wanted to do, in my heart, involved bicycles. I knew it when I got out of the military. I just didn’t know what that looked like until I drove by the building we’re in right now, and it had a ‘For Lease’ sign in the window. I looked at it, called the guy, and said ‘I’ll take it.’”
Never mind that Dennis didn’t know how to run a business, nor was he quite qualified to work on bikes. “It didn’t matter. Once I put my mind to something, it happens. I understood bikes and bicycling, I just needed to go to bike school. All the good ones are out west, so I signed up for the first one I could, which was literally one week later. I bought a ticket, completed the course, came back, and just kept working.”
There is no questioning his passion; it emanates through every facet of his shops and the people who work there—not to mention the phenomenal customer service. (In fact, if you head over now, Dennis might offer you a coffee from the new office espresso machine.)
“Whatever it is you’re doing, enjoy it; it’s that simple. When it comes to bikes, we always tell everybody, ‘Don’t make it too complicated.’ Just keep it simple and enjoy the ride. Isn’t that what life is all about?”
In Dennis’ case, his passion for action, his drive to spend every minute doing what he loves, that keeps him young at heart. “I don’t feel my age, by any means. A lot of times I feel younger than my counterparts. I think this attitude starts when you’re a kid, and you’re just having fun. You’re out riding your bike or playing basketball, just enjoying yourself. And then you become an adult and now you work; playtime is over. I never bought into that mentality. Work can be play. I’m living proof.”