WINNIPEG, Man. — The saying goes, if you choose a job that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And that rings true for Ester Nemeth – a lifelong truck driver who has been crowned the Truckload Carriers Association’s Company Driver of the Year.
Nemeth says she has diesel in her veins and feels she was called to the vocation of trucking. Even when on vacation, the pull of the open highway is so strong that she’ll often take a long road trip just to pass the time.
“I’ve always wanted to drive truck since I was a little kid,” she says. “Because I grew up in a small town and there was nothing to do, so I was always driving. And because it was a small town, we didn’t have a lot of trucks driving by. But as a kid, when I saw one, I was just left in awe. I would pump my arm to get the driver to honk the horn. I’ve wanted to drive since I can remember.”
Nemeth has been driving trucks professionally since she earned her licence in 1991, and has been driving with Bison Transport since 1999. These days, she’s an in-cab instructor for the company, training female recruits how to drive a big rig.
In fact, Nemeth modestly says she learns more from her trainees than she could ever teach them in return.
“When I was first asked to be an instructor, I had to think about it,” she says. “I didn’t think I had anything to teach them. But it’s been so rewarding and so inspiring for me.”
Her favorite part of the job is still the driving itself.
“The open road is no doubt my favorite part of my job,” she says. “I feel at peace when I’m driving. The routes I drive aren’t stressful. It’s just me and the highway. I love seeing all the different places.”
This year, at the 81st annual Truckload Carriers Association conference in Las Vegas, Nemeth was presented with her international honor – reserved for one company driver who enhances the trucking industry’s image. And Nemeth is the first female to be nominated for the award since 2005.
A candidate’s safety record plays an understandable role in securing the recognition. Nemeth has accumulated more than 6 million accident-free kilometers in her career, and she was also the first female driver to hit 1.6 million accident-free kilometers at Bison.
This veteran driver chalks up her flawless record to going back to basics.
“I really just take it one mile at a time,” she says. “I’m constantly watching my surroundings. I tell my trainees that all the time — watch everything and expect the unexpected, like cars cutting you off and all that. And I always watch my speed, and never go faster than I need to. And if conditions are bad, I’m lucky at Bison to have the right to decide policy and park my truck.”
It was a “surreal experience” to win the award this past March, too.
“I didn’t believe it when they said my name and that I had won,” she says. “To this day, I still don’t believe it. All the other nominees were all so wonderful, I didn’t think I’d win. I got to know all of them during the conference and they were all so much more deserving than I was. So, when they said my name, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a great surprise.”
For Nemeth, who turns 52 this year, retirement is still a long way away. She hopes to continue her driving career at Bison right up until the time she decides to hang up her keys for good.
There are many miles to go before that happens.
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