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Truckers find ways to get fit on the road
Last February, Glenn Keller of Burleson, Texas, was fed up — literally. At 5 feet, 5 inches, the trucker weighed 315 pounds. For 10 years, he suffered from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition linked to obesity that interrupts breathing during sleep. He was verging on high blood pressure and diabetes.
“As a minister, I was always trying to motivate people, but I was doing nothing to improve my situation,” says Keller, 51, a trucker for 20 years and also the co-founder and minister of Make a Difference Ministry, a Baptist center in Burleson. Over the years, he watched his high school football and military sculpting morph into a 64-inch waist. “My wife wanted me to get a suit for the ministry. But I knew I’d just be dressed-up fat.”
Trucker Kurtiss Blackmon’s story is scarier: In 2007, the native of Kershaw, S.C., headed to a hospital because at 385 pounds, he couldn’t breathe. He had a blood clot in his lungs and six in his legs. “The doc said, ‘Your trucking days are over,’” says Blackmon, now 62.
Alfy Meyer, a trucker for 35 years, wasn’t living a fairy tale either. He’d stopped exercising, put on 45 pounds, and his back was screaming. “Fifteen years ago, I had a back spasm that folded me literally in half,” says the 60-year old who has three forms of severe arthritis. On top of constant pain, the Kitchener, Ontario, native suffers from seasonal affective disorder — a depressive syndrome associated with lack of sunlight — and prostate problems that used to wake him four times a night. Before he quit smoking 25 years ago, he puffed through three packs a day.
The Tipping Point
According to a 2012 report by the Transportation Research Board, drivers today face multiple health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A 2007 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association notes that 86 percent of truck drivers are overweight or obese. And a 2007 report by the Transportation Research Board found that one in four drivers have sleep apnea, and half smoke.
Keller, Blackmon and Meyer are bucking the trend. Each has found a way to get healthy on the road.
Keller’s turning point came when he heard CNN calling for applications to its 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge team. The challenge: to swim a half mile, bike for 18 and run four in September. Three hours before the deadline, Keller filed an application. “I pulled my truck over, bought a webcam, ate my last bucket of fried chicken wings and made a video,” says Keller. “I thought, ‘It’s time to practice what I preach.’”
CNN welcomed him to the seven-member team, linking him to a trainer who emails him workout instructions every week. Keller began walking 30 minutes a day and started weight training.
“When I got started, I thought, ‘What did I do?’ I would run and be panting like I was going to die. Every muscle hurt, but there was no turning back,” he says. Now he runs close to a mile — no stops.
Blackmon knew, despite his doctor’s declaration that his over-the-road days were over, that trucking was his life. He went to a dietician and learned to exchange sweets and fried meats for baked chicken and veggie buffets. “Before, if I couldn’t get a McDonald’s hamburger every day, I would die. Now I get salad and a baked potato — no butter or salt.”
Constant pain finally got Meyer’s attention. He bought a collapsible stair stepper, hand weights and resistance tubing, turning part of his double-bunk Freightliner Coronado into a road gym. “I started doing 10 minutes a day on the stepper and jerry-rigged resistance bands for my arms so that my stepper is now a cross-trainer.” Now Meyer works out for 45 minutes, four to five times a week.
He’s also relearned how to eat, dumping sugary cereal and corn dogs for fruits, nuts and roasted chicken.
“I still enjoy barbecued steak, but the first thing I ask for is a doggy bag and then I cut the steak in half,” he says.
Clearing the roadblocks
Since February, Keller has lost 40 pounds, trimming his waist from 64 inches to 46. “The biggest challenge has been changing my eating,” says Keller. “Before, I would eat 10 pieces of fried chicken. I referred to vegetables as rabbit food. Now I eat roasted chicken and a salad.”
If life minus fried chicken sags, Keller occasionally treats himself, but only to six chicken wings — a mere appetizer in comparison to the complete bucket meals he once devoured.
Any moment of temptation gets quashed by the progress he’s seeing.
“I haven’t felt this good in years,” Keller says. “I can walk up stairs and not feel like I’m about to pass out. And the better I feel, the better I want to feel.”
He’s so determined he even climbs out of his truck on rainy nights to run, knowing that once he starts making excuses, he is heading for a downhill slide.
Blackmon initially had a tough time. Unhealthy choices beckoned everywhere. “The hardest part was finding meals a diabetic can eat,” says Blackmon. Plenty of vegetables and well-stocked salad bars serve the purpose, keeping him full and satisfied with his meals. After the first 60 days huddling with the dietician, he lost 35 pounds. Two years later, he was off diabetes medication, and his doctor began signing two-year driving certifications. He’s held his weight at 205 for three years.
“I sit next to someone who’s obese, and pretty soon I have him on the walking machine,” Blackmon says. “It really jazzes me when I can help.”
For Meyer, it’s also been a slow but steady shift. In four years he’s lost 42 pounds — from 230 to 188. “I had to relearn discipline and not eat impulsively,” the 5 foot, 9 inch driver says.
Meyer felt he also combated a social stigma within the trucking community. “It’s like fat is in and healthy is out,” he says. “When I used to rollerblade, I’d listen to the guys on the CB referring to me in derogatory terms. But I realized that I’m just responsible to myself.”
What they gained by losing
Keller blogs about his progress for CNN and was thrilled to tell the world that he shed his apnea. The “Positivity” bracelet his trainer gave him, which once cut off his wrist circulation, now dangles. Even better, he feels his words match his ministry.
“I was already a motivator,” he says. “But now someone needs to put a leash on me.”
Blackmon too knows he has his life back — a better one. “Just this year alone, I’ve been proposed to four times, and the women don’t even know me. At 6 foot, 4 inches, 385 pounds, I was a really big boy, but I was a dying big boy.”
Meyer believes he has another chance as well. “Ten years ago I had a sticker on my phone that said, ‘Life sucks.’ But since I got fit, I’m happy almost to the point where I annoy my wife.”
Each of these three drivers has taken advantage of the StayFit program at TA and Petro locations in their efforts to get their health under control.
- Fitness rooms — 39 locations have a fitness room free to UltraONE members. Equipment includes an elliptical cross trainer, recumbent bike, pulley resistance or sit-up board and folding gym mate.
- Walking trails — More than 120 locations offer mapped walking trails for drivers.
- StayFit menu items — Most sit-down restaurants include lower calorie, better-for-you items, clearly marked with the StayFit symbol.
- StayFit snacks — Travel stores offer numerous healthy snack choices, clearly marked with the StayFit symbol.