A DIFFERENT KIND OF CONVOY: Rachele Champagne, organizer of the first all-female truck convoy led the pack for a stretch of the event, which featured 29 trucks.
GIRL POWER: The convoy sets out en-route to a celebration at the 730 Truck Stop in Cardinal, Ont.
OTTAWA, Ont. –A woman at the wheel of a semi tractor and trailer is still an unusual site in North America -and a convoy of female drivers is particularly rare.
Last July, Rachele Champagne was part of a three-truck female convoy, while driving along Hwy. 401, a prominent corridor between Quebec and Ontario. At that time, Champagne decided that a greater celebration of female truckers was in order. Within three months, she organized what she believes is the first female convoy, and decided to hold the event in concert with an appropriate female cause -breast cancer awareness -which is annually promoted during the month of October.
The first Female Convoy departed from the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop in Cornwall, Ont., at noon on Saturday, Oct. 18, following a complimentary breakfast. After a distance of 62 km, the 29 trucks all piloted by female drivers arrived at the 730 Truck Stop in Cardinal, Ont., where they were greeted by friends, family, and event sponsors.
Participating drivers raised a total of $15,000 for breast cancer research. Champagne also raised a total of $10,000 from sponsors, which she used to provide the female drivers a celebratory barbecue and gift bags containing various treats, including jewelry, gloves and coffee mugs.
Other sponsors also provided free fuel, a truck wash, and other perks. A breast cancer survivor, Anna Capobianco-Skipworth, rode with Champagne for the duration of the convoy, and later spoke about her recovery.
“You could have heard a pin drop while she was speaking,” says Champagne. “For half an hour she spoke about the importance of (breast cancer awareness): how to prevent it; how to deal with it if it happens; and how to ask for help. She tells her story in a humorous way that actually keeps people interested.”
Sylvie Ouellette raised a total of $1,600, the highest donation raised by any member of the convoy. For her part in supporting the convoy initiative, Ouellette drove the lead truck.
However, considering Champagne’s extensive involvement with the event, including soliciting sponsors, she had one small request: to be temporary lead truck before and after Ouellette’s turn.
“Exiting and entering the truck stop, that’s all I wanted,” says Champagne, a single mother of two who lives in Gatineau, Que., when she’s not driving for a trucking firm in Ottawa.
When the female truck drivers arrived at the Cardinal truck stop, it was inspirational for all involved.
The convoy organizer remains amazed at her accomplishment, especially with putting together such a complex event over such a short period of time.
“I still have goose bumps,” she says, of a scene that had drivers greeting friends, family and sponsors, in true trucker fashion -by honking their horns and rocking their vehicles from side-to-side non-stop for about 15 minutes. The drivers were also very appreciative of the greeting party’s tribute to female truck drivers, a scene that caused a great deal of emotion, not only from drivers but also from those who understood the momentous event.
“Tears are coming down their faces, because they can’t believe what they’re seeing,” says Champagne. “They can’t believe they are looking at 30 females behind the wheel, who just all came together for an amazing cause. To me, that was the most powerful moment of my day.”
Even Capobianco-Skipworth cried during her drive with the convoy, not only for this unusual support for breast cancer research, but also as a reaction to her new friends, especially when the horns were blasting and the trucks were rocking. “She could not believe the girl power between us,” says Champagne.
The dual purpose of the event, not only for breast cancer research, but also to promote gender equality, was intentional, according to Champagne. She emphasizes that she is not only proud to be a woman, she is also very proud to be a truck driver – maybe even more so. Champagne says she chose the breast cancer cause, because it’s a disease that touches thousands of women every day.
“It just made sense to have a cause that really relates to women. It does touch men as well, but mostly women.”
Champagne says she is appreciative of the support that she received, especially the donations and the sponsors that were so generous about supporting the convoy. She plans to organize another female convoy next year, but with the help of a small committee, and possibly on a national level.
“I just have to find 12 people motivated like me. It would be really amazing, if in a year on the same date, we could have a convoy in hopefully every province, eventually and make it the biggest female convoy for sure.”
For more information about this, or future female convoys, or to watch a video of the event, refer to www.convoyforacure.com.