In a brick building at the end of a parking lot, through an unassuming door and up a narrow flight of stairs, there’s a one-room yoga studio that blends Zen with industrial pragmatism. The sounds of Main Street waft through the windows to challenge, or perhaps aid, the quest to become one with your surroundings. This is Shenandoah Yoga, located next to Shenandoah Bicycle Company at 135 South Main Street.
Sue George is the owner of this unique establishment, where downtown is as much a part of the experience as the exercises themselves. She’s not what you may expect of a yoga instructor in the stereotypical sense, trim and athletic where one might envision long and billowy, and a slight deal less mystical and “earthy” as she is introspective and down-to-earth. There’s a reason for this.
George, resident of Old Town and owner of Shenandoah Yoga, is also a bicycling racer who has won several U.S. national and collegiate titles. She still races recreationally when not running her business or serving in her other capacity as mountain bike editor at cyclingnews.com. To top it off, George holds two degrees in mechanical engineering, and has written a book on cycling in Central Virginia.
Sue George took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about the strange twists of fate that brought her from the national cycling circuit to teaching yoga in Harrisonburg, Virginia—and the interconnectedness of it all.
LNH: How did you get started with cycling?
SG: I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania and my parents rode recreationally as part of a club. I was lucky enough to live near a velodrome [an arena for track cycling] that had free programs for the local community. Some friends of my parents suggested that they sign me up one summer, and at end of program there was a bike race.
George was seven at the time, but had already found a lifelong passion. Her first race at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center velodrome in Breinigsville, Pa. led to other events. By the age of 14, George was traveling the country and the world as a member of the U.S. junior national team.
SG: The opportunity to travel at that age was fantastic. It helped show me the commonality between people’s hopes and dreams. It helped me to relate to different people living their lives in other places—but at the same time realize that I am really fortunate in my life to have the opportunities that I did.
Traveling so intensely at such a young age required some sacrifices, but those were gladly made for the love of the sport. Given the choice between attending her high school graduation or fly to Cuba for the Pan American Junior Team races, the decision was simple. George went to Cuba.
LNH: So what led your decision to stop competing at this high level?
SG: Education was always a top priority in my family. I wound up going to college and getting two degrees in mechanical engineering, a Bachelor’s at Penn State and Master’s at UVA. Mechanical engineering is pretty demanding, and it forced me to step down from racing. But cycling has always been a part of my life; it’s a lifetime pursuit. I continued to do freelance work covering races before becoming the mountain bike editor of cyclingnews.com.
LNH: When did yoga come into the picture?
SG: I was looking for something to help with some sports related injuries I had and that’s how I came upon yoga. From there I discovered all of yoga’s other benefits, and now as an instructor, I get to spread those benefits around a bit. As a writer, most of the work you do is sedentary, while yoga is more physical – you sit at your desk all day, then in the evening go work the kinks out with yoga. I love being able to share this with my students who are essentially doing the same thing, working in an office all day, then wanting to relax and work out.
It’s funny how different pursuits in your life lead to other things. All of my research when I was in school was geared toward bioengineering—the mechanics of the body. It’s extremely helpful to have an understanding of the body when teaching yoga and competing. Yoga is a good complement to all my passions.
LNH: And what, then, brought you from this life—cycling on a national level, growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania—to Harrisonburg?
SG: Again, one thing leads to another. When I was in grad school at UVA, I was spending every free moment riding my bike in the area. I eventually came to write a book (Road Cycling in Central Virginia: A Guide), and in the process discovered Harrisonburg was a great place for both off road riding and mountain biking. I realized I was spending all my time in Harrisonburg and it seemed natural to move here.
LNH: Why downtown?
SG: I’ve lived in various places of various sizes, and for me, I enjoy living and working in close proximity. While I enjoy traveling, I also enjoy the efficiency of living and working downtown. It makes the flow of life work really well; it’s nice to be able to walk and ride my bike and not drive my car. I have both options in downtown Harrisonburg.
LNH: Do you still compete?
SG: I race strictly for fun now, about two times a year, like the regional mountain bike race. I don’t train for it, but just generally try to stay in good condition. I know so many people from my competition days, and the racing community is like a family. It’s great to be a part of that.
LNH: One last question. This is a downtown blog after all: what are your favorite places downtown?
SG: Shenandoah Yoga and Shenandoah Bicycle Company of course, and places like the Massanutten Regional Library and Shank’s Bakery. Places you can walk to easily.
Sue George is a resident of Harrisonburg, Virginia and owner of Shenandoah Yoga. Her book, Road Cycling in Central Virginia: A Guide can be found at Shenandoah Bicycle Company, East Coast Bicycle Academy, or ordered online from University of Virginia Press (ISBN 0-8139-2532-0).