She walked onto the patio like she was walking off her yacht. I was waiting for her at the back of a coffee house overlooking Lake Travis. It was a rainy, lazy day, and she had texted to tell me that she had just awakened from a nap and was running a little late. Dena was sporting a long mane of naturally curly hair (never combed except in the shower), brown with blond highlights), a plaid shirt with a few buttons undone, short shorts and canvas shoes. She gave a cute, shy little wave and then came around to the picnic table to give me a polite but gentle hug. Thus began a fascinating interview, series of calls, texts, emails and a photo shoot that would lead to this profile.
The Early Years, and Meeting A Dude
Dena Marie Kinate (pronounced like “in it to win it”) and I hadn’t met before in person. I had seen her rides on Strava, the fitness app, and was impressed so had made a few comments. One day I got up the courage to ask if we could talk about doing an interview and somewhat surprisingly, she said yes. The day was finally here, and we were both a little nervous. Dena slipped out of her seat, darting downstairs to look for a more private spot. She was a little skittish, like a horse – a little put off by this random new person and a crowded room. She told me I should have arranged for a better place, even though the location was her idea. I appreciated her frankness — nice but unexpected. And she was also right, the place was crowded. But I just got her talking, and eventually we got absorbed in the conversation. Soon we had mostly forgotten about everyone else, who couldn’t care less about us anyway.
For the next hour and a half, we talked about her childhood, her start in cycling, going into her adult years, her jobs and moves, starting a massage practice and up until present day. If there’s one thing I can tell you about Dena, it’s that there isn’t just one thing about Dena. Like everyone, she’s the product of her upbringing and experiences. But she seems to me to be a study in contradictions: a young woman both acutely aware of her strengths and weaknesses, fearless about telling others exactly what she thinks (but not concerned if you don’t like it) and “fiercely independent” but still searching for connection. Or maybe not. I got the feeling she’s an open book but also that there are more chapters to her story hidden behind those baby blue eyes.
Of German stock, she was born in Texas but grew up in Minnesota on a hobby farm in the wilderness. As a country kid she loved to explore the wilds with her siblings and used a poor man’s BMX bike to do a lot of that. Developing into adolescence, she outgrew her bike and was old enough to drive. Bicycling faded away, like it does for many, if not most people. Dena became a track star, mostly as a pole vaulter. She wasn’t born to run, but she claims to be innately physically fit and gifted. She was a good kid but went through the typical teenage rebellious phase and admitted to being a bit of a “spoiled brat.” A quality not without its advantages; that stubbornness would come in handy.
At age 20, there was an incident involving Dena and a car – let’s just call it a youthful indiscretion. For a while she couldn’t drive and refused to take the bus, which led her to Erik’s Bike Shop in Minneapolis. She bought herself a good, comfortable hybrid bike, started riding and loved it. Biking reminded her of being that young girl again riding in the country. She developed a “perma-grin” any time she biked.
One day she was out riding, and a group of jocks came by her. Without really trying too hard, she kept up – in regular shorts and flip flops. She didn’t know it, but she was actually pretty phenomenal on a bike. Dena was aware that she was strong, competitive, and had those long getaway sticks. (That’s private eye-speak from the 1940’s for legs.) But until age 29, she was essentially a bike commuter who rode for fitness. At 30, she figured out how to clip in bike shoes. She started riding farther and faster. A new phase was beginning.
Discovering Massage, Rediscovering Bicycling
Back in college, Dena had done massage on the side, and fell in love with it. Always a physical woman comfortable using her body, she discovered an interest in the clinical massage of athletes due to the issues people have with their fascia (connective tissue). After a while she quit the university and tried to become a business woman, but skirts, pantyhose, offices and meetings weren’t for her. She began doing massage full-time. There was a detour to Bend, Oregon for some training.
Then in 2011 she moved to Austin to open her own practice, Applied Pressure. She does deep tissue work, myofascial release and ashiatsu – using bars to be able to use her feet on clients’ backs. It’s a very physical job, and she has to limit her clients to a certain number per week. She puts 100% into each and every session, so she can only see a few clients a day. Recently, she added two assistants, and she’s getting licensed to teach her invention of her own style of massage around the country for Continuing Education Units. Dena says she’s the best in town and claims to have changed how massage was done here. She says things like that with confidence and what might seem like a touch of arrogance, but it comes across as a matter of fact. She can be very persuasive and convincing. Who am I to disagree?
The Education of a Cyclist
Back in Minneapolis, no one cared about your bike or if you rode in flip flops, she shared. But upon moving to Austin, she was told – and got a lot of attitude about – not having a cool bike. One day, a client also told her she should get better bike. She relented and upgraded by getting a good mountain bike, but she was still pretty intimidated by the whole scene of bike people in their Lycra.
One night not too long after that, Dena had been imbibing a bit. Early the next morning, she went on a group ride. Up to this point her longest ride had been only 30 miles. This was a special Easter ride of 60 miles. She didn’t have any water or a kit (bike clothes) and figured she’d get something to drink at the half-way point. But she soon got dropped by the pack (left behind and alone on the road). She was hungover, strung out, her phone dead. She sat on a curb crying, exhausted and dehydrated.
Dena was stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere outside of Austin, and some guy on a bike stopped to ask if she was OK. Clearly, she wasn’t. He got her a triple dark Snickers and it helped, so she made it home. She didn’t know about bonking and learned a hard lesson that day. It turned out that the Snickers guy was a very strong bike racer. He asked her out, and they began dating. He helped her get over being intimidated and that coaching took her to the next level. She got faster and better on the bike. Alot.
Dena tried road racing but didn’t like it, because it’s too much of a team sport, like volleyball. And easy to crash. The one mountain bike race she did, she won, the Warda State Mountain Bike Championships (Category 3) in La Grange, Texas. That’s like running track, which she was good at, and is mostly about individual effort. Lately she’s been doing more mountain biking and sometimes entertains thoughts of racing again.
If she does, “Mark my words, I’ll win state time trials! That’s because I’m tenacious and will keep on working my butt off to be first at the finish line,” she said without an ounce of pretense. When you’re good and you know it, what seems like bragging is just knowing who you are. And she is a pretty damn fine bicyclist. I haven’t seen her ride personally, but friends have, and they tell me she’s really fast and good on the hills. Strava doesn’t lie.
But that’s not all there is to this amazing woman’s story. Stay tuned for Part 2.
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