Following Editor Deb Lockridge's lead, here's a good trucking story. I have had the privilege of being the emcee at one of the World's Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics events for the past nine years. Over that time that one event, among dozens of others held each September, has raised more than half a million dollars for these very special athletes.
Photo by Jim Park
The Special Olympics Convoy is probably the signature fund raising event for truck drivers, and they pour their hearts and souls into it every year. They book that weekend off weeks or months in advance, get permission from their carriers to participate, and then spend months raising personal pledges, contributions and sponsorships from friends and family, business associates and anyone else from whom they can extort a little cash.
I've seen individual drivers bring in collected contributions of more than $10,000. That's a year's work. The Convoy is pretty big deal to these folks.
The Special Olympics Convoys began rolling in 2001, when Cpl. Norm Schneiderhan, special project coordinator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, brought together his relationships in trucking with his participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The result was a convoy of a few dozen trucks.
In 2004, the Convoy earned its place in the "Guinness Book of World Records" when 1,136 truck drivers formed 24 convoys across the U.S. and Canada. By 2010, the number of convoys had more than doubled and participation was over 5,000 trucks. According to "Corporal Norm's" Linkedin page, the various Convoys held over the years have collectively raised over $5 million as of 2012.
Lead truck honors usually go to the driver that brings in the most pledges and sponsorships. That competition leads to some incredible generosity. Photo by Jim Park
My role in all this has been a small one. Reporting on them, obviously, and promoting them. And my role as emcee at one particular convoy is about rallying the troops and keeping the schedule more or less on track. It's truly an honor be a part of the Convoy helping these folks, the drivers and the volunteers, who do so much work in the months leading up the events.
I think the general impression these Convoys make on the public is positive. Sure, a few horns blare when the police escorts close an intersection for a few minutes to let a Convoy pass, but with the lead and last trucks adorned with Convoy logos, there's a recognition that something good is happening. There much horn tooting and thumbs up from passing cars.
I think in the nine years I have been involved with that one particular Convoy they have had television coverage three times. The press is always invited but they don't always show up. Sometimes they do, but something bigger on the editorial radar screen bumps the coverage off the nightly news. Though scarce, the coverage has always been positive.
I think it's interesting that these Convoys have brought law enforcement and truckers together -- maybe only for a day, but I've seen some lasting friendships come if it. To their immense credit, the drivers and cops set their differences aside and focus on the Special Olympics athletes. What happened at the scale on Friday, stays at the scale. And having said that, drivers are a lot more comfortable talking with enforcement officers and trying to work out differences in a constructive way away from the heat of the front lines.
How often do you see a trucker and a DOT officer like this? Photo by Jim Park
In a press release I read online, Tom Reasoner, the assistant director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run has this to say about the Truck Convoys.
"Special Olympics has a way of bringing everyone together, setting aside differences and building atmospheres of acceptance. The fact that Special Olympics can bring together law enforcement and truckers is a testament to how the athletes of Special Olympics are a true inspiration."
In recent years, several other groups have taken to convoying as a fundraiser, such as Trucking for a Cure, a breast cancer fundraiser, and others.
I think these truck convoys are one of trucking's finer moments. It's a true outpouring of generosity and done in the spirit of giving. I think it shows what drivers are made of and demonstrates to the community there's much more to trucking and truckers than black smoke and taillights.
While I have your attention, check out our photo gallery from some of the Convoy events I have taken part in over the years.
Here's to all the good in Truckers' hearts!