Every athlete toes the start line with a story. All of them are unique, each of them are inspirational to others, in some way.
I am a truck driver. I belong to a profession that is not known for the fitness of the people who stay in the industry for a long time. Wait, let me amend that. Truck drivers have a reputation for their fitness level, but it is not a good reputation. The consensus view, even among other drivers, is that truck drivers tend to be grossly overweight, smokers, sleep deprived, with more of a penchant for barbecue than a brisk walk around the truck stop.
The image is not unwarranted. According to a study performed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in 2014, long-haul truck drivers are more than twice as likely to be obese as the general population (69% vs. 31%). We are also more than twice as likely to be morbidly obese (17% vs. 7%), and to smoke (51% vs. 19%). We are twice as likely to have diabetes (14% vs. 7%). All of this is taking place in an environment where federal regulations are growing stricter on just how out-of-shape someone can be, and still safely operate a commercial motor vehicle. Sometimes, though, it takes more of a wake up call than the government telling you that you are unhealthy.
As a third-generation trucker, I was not surprised that when I first went into driving, I began to put on some weight. Driving is a demanding profession, and at the end of a long, stressful day, I only wanted to grab a bite to eat and hit the sleeper berth. When I met my wife in 1989, and we started driving team, the challenges only increased. Driving around 22 hours a day, we did not have the time or the energy to exercise and learn to eat right. My weight went way up to a point that made me not like what I saw in the shower-room mirror. I hit a point where my energy was low, my back hurt all the time, and I would get winded just by climbing a few stairs. We decided to make some changes after a trip to Alaska in 1992.
A short hike will allow visitors to Exit Glacier, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, to climb up to the ice fields. The hike is considered moderate in difficult. We wanted to see the ice fields, but knew that “moderate” may have been beyond our limits. We had always planned to get back in shape “someday.” For the first time, a possible adventure had come up, and we were not fit enough to enjoy it. Out of our frustration, we decided to set a goal. We wrote our goal on a piece of paper and posted it where we would see it everyday. We wanted "To be ready for whatever may be in store for us!" We began a journey that involved learning about nutrition and exercise. The small changes we made became bigger changes and then bigger goals. About thirteen years later, I set a huge goal. I wanted to train for, and run, a marathon.
Most marathon training programs call for building up weekly miles of running. I changed my priorities to suit my goal. If the truck was stopped, I was running. My weekly miles progressed up to twenty miles per week, then thirty, then even a forty-mile week. Although most runners would consider me woefully under-trained, I completed the Rock-N-Roll Marathon in Phoenix in January of 2006. Running turned out to be a great way for me to exercise on the truck. It was efficient; I could get my heart rate up quicker than seeing blue lights in my rear-view mirror. Running provided a great break from driving. Only minimal gear was required, so not much space in the truck was taken up with exercise equipment. Now I have completed five marathons, two half-marathons, a number of 5Ks, two sprint triathlons, an Olympic-Length triathlon, and I am about to try my longest race ever, a Half-Ironman. 70.3 miles of swimming, cycling, and running. Cindy and I still like to eat barbecue, but we make daily decisions to be active and watch what we eat.
I do hope my story is inspirational. Currently, it seems that if we drivers see a fit person driving a truck, we think he is new to the industry. We see a heavy person driving a truck, and we think they are a veteran driver. If we see a four-hundred pound person anywhere, we think that they must drive a truck for a living. I have a dream that we can change that line of thinking.
I would like to see a scrawny person driving a truck thought of as a brand-new driver. A heavy person driving a truck will be thought of as a newbie, one who has not quite gotten it together yet. When you will see a fit person getting out of their truck in running shorts, you would think that he is a veteran driver who has figured out how to live on the road.
Resources exist, and are being created, for drivers who have decided to make a change. We have to get the message out to them that they can make a difference in their lives. If I can do it, they can do it. If getting the message out involves swimming, cycling, and running around the beautiful city of Chattanooga for a day, I'm in.
This article was originally featured on LongerRuns.com.