Health in Action: Truckers to Triathlon

Well Being Monday, June 8, 2015 Written by

Imagine driving a long-haul semi for a living: driving — and sitting — for eight to ten hours a day, grabbing fast food from truck stops, dealing with the stress of the road and often working odd shifts that don’t make for the best night’s sleep.

If it sounds like a profession that might not be conducive to a healthy lifestyle, that’s because it’s not. Research has shown that truckers are more obese, less active and more likely to eat unhealthily than those in many other professions.

Bud Harris, a health and safety engineer, saw that all too well while working as an injury prevention specialist for the Con-Way Freight trucking company a few years ago. Rather than let it slide, however, Harris decided to do something about it.

“I met one trucker who was working nights and trying to lose weight but he wasn’t able to,” said Harris, a former helicopter logger, electrician and engineering technician who later shifted his work toward safety, wellness and personal health. “He wanted to find a way to get started on that quest, so I worked with him to get him going.”

As an avid runner, cyclist and basketball player, Harris helped motivate the driver to stick to exercise routines that started with trips to the gym, spin classes and, eventually, swims at Haag Lake outside Portland. That progression paved the way for the trucker, John Schniedewind, to not only lose 50 pounds but to take on a triathlon along with two other Con-Way truckers.

“A few months after that one, we put together three teams that did another triathlon as a team,” said Harris, “and it just snowballed from there.”

What that morphed into was Truckers to Triathletes, an initiative aimed at enabling truck drivers to move toward a healthier lifestyle by training for and participating in triathlons. Harris said the effort spread to include close to 150 truckers and their friends and family who were similarly inspired to get more active. Many of those involved have dropped significant amounts of weight and have become avid athletes, knocking off triathlons, organized runs and adventure races like Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder.

“I think first and foremost, you’ve got to help people,” Harris said. “It’s always inspiring them to believe they can have more and do more.”

Another key to Harris’ approach and success with getting once-sedentary folks to become more active is something he called a “wellness vision.” That involves asking people to paint in their minds a better picture of what their lives could be. Once that’s in place, a tactical plan on how to achieve that vision follows, such as walking three days a week and slowly increasing to a daily walk as a way to start losing weight.

“You make a plan for it and you follow it,” Harris said.

Though Harris has since moved on from Con-way and now works with his Truckers to Triathletes more on a hobby basis, he said he still tries to inspire them — and anyone who wants to live a healthier, more active lifestyle — with a fairly simple philosophy.

“My motto is, just do anything consistently,” he said. “Whether that’s eating one more piece of fruit per day or walking around your truck during a break. Pick something that you know you can’t fail at. Do it consistently until it becomes a habit. Then add on one more, and then another and another. It works. I’ve seen it, and all these guys have, too.”