Halvor Lines truck drivers Murray Morgan and Donny Sazama admit they receive strange looks when they don their running gear at truck stops.

They’re fighting a stigma, almost an acceptance, that truckers are supposed to be overweight. Their example could help change that.

Morgan and Sazama are part of the Superior-based Halvor’s running team that will tackle Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday.

“I’ll do calisthenics outside my truck, and people will just stare. They don’t know what to do with something like that,” Morgan said. “I’d say 90 percent of the truckers are overweight. They have no concept of being healthy, but don’t get me wrong, because I was there just 18 months ago. I just didn’t know how to do anything different.”

Morgan will run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and Sazama the full 26.2 miles. They will be joined by Halvor driver Mike Purdun and human resources specialist Chelsea Loining, who are running their first half marathons. Health and Wellness coordinator Becca Mathews, an experienced runner, also will run the half.

“I wanted a few of our drivers to run Grandma’s to prove that even when you are

over-the-road driving you can still fit time in to exercise,” Mathews said. “At Halvor Lines, we care about our employees and their health, and I have a vision of growing our running group.”

The fitness initiative at Halvor Lines is no joke. It’s a matter of life and death.

Truck driving consistently ranks among the unhealthiest professions. Morgan referenced one sobering statistic, saying that the average life expectancy of a truck driver is just 61 years or 16 years lower than the national average. While that statistic has been disputed, it previously was cited by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the source.

Statistics aside, common sense would tell you that sitting all day at work and eating at truck stops isn’t healthy.

Truck stops are the proverbial greasy spoon, where fries, gravy and chicken fried steak are the norm, and coffee is the energy drink. Morgan said some of the bigger truck stops now offer fresh fruits, but exercise rooms – in addition to the trucker’s lounge – would be even better.

“It’s extremely hard to lose weight out here,” Morgan said Saturday while at a truck stop in Kingdom City, Mo., one of America’s largest. “As far as food goes out on the road, it’s horrible. Everything out here is grease.”

At 73, Morgan is the oldest full-time over-the-road driver for Halvor Lines, which has a staff of about 380, including 290 drivers. Morgan was an avid runner before quitting at age 55 after being scared off when a friend had health problems related to his bone structure, possibly compounded by running.

Morgan, about 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, lost 48 pounds last year while following one of Mathews’ driver health programs that focused on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as limited exercises in the truck.

“Then Becca got a hold of me and decided I should run some more,” Morgan said, joking. “Becca is very good at what she does, which is recruiting people to do things in a healthy way. She has marvelously changed not only my physique, but my life as well. I feel better, I look better, I’m more at ease. I’m just healthier. It’s like magic.”

The 5-foot-10 Sazama, meanwhile, dropped from 205 to 180 pounds by running, but he, too, needed to change his diet to shed another 10 pounds. That has helped him become one of the top marathoners in the area, running a personal record at Grandma’s last year in 2 hours, 43 minutes, 40 seconds.

Sazama is now a local driver but said it wasn’t too hard to stay in shape when he worked over the road, if he maintained discipline.

Morgan credited Halvor Lines for helping create a culture shift, calling the company the “best kept secret in trucking in the Northland.” New Halvor trucks can be equipped with refrigerators and microwaves, so bringing raw food on the road is no longer an issue (with most large discount stores not allowing truck parking, this used to be a problem).

Halvor is installing a half-mile walking and running path that will go around its Superior campus, encouraging employees to run or walk during their breaks.

For Morgan, it reinforces what he has long believed: Life on the road is what you make it. He and his wife of 32 years, Maryanne Morgan, used to drive in tandem before Maryanne suffered a heart attack and could no longer pass the driver’s physical. They used to plan their route so they could take time off to go to the fish shops in Seattle, see plays in New York City or the Smithsonian in Washington.

“It’s a life that’s unbelievable, if you want to treat it as a life that’s unbelievable,” Morgan said. “If you’re going to just come out here and drive, you’re missing half of it.”

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