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Stretch and Go!

Managing back pain on the road

By Kristiana Indradat

Craig Gavel

Road Knight Craig Gavel doesn’t take back pain lying down.

With 19 years of collision-free professional driving experience, Craig Gavel has spent a lot of time sitting behind the wheel. Gavel is one of four transport drivers recently "knighted" by the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) to educate communities on how to share the road safely with the men and women driving the big trucks.

The new team of Road Knights collectively boasts over 85 years of professional driving experience and nearly 13 million collision-free kilometers on the road.

Collisions aren't the only threat these road warriors face. With back injury rates among the highest for truck drivers, Gavel encourages drivers to take back health seriously by promoting the "Stretch and Go" message.

Stop (the truck) and move (your body)

Three years ago, Gavel had been carrying two hundred and seventy-five pounds on his 5'7" frame. When he felt the beginnings of back pain start to creep up on him, he took action.

"If you're overweight and sitting in a seat all day, it just compounds the problem," he says.

He opted for a healthier and more active lifestyle in his downtime and kicked back pain and the extra weight – about 110 pounds – to the curb.

Inactivity can wreak havoc on a driver's alertness, too. Driving for long periods can lead to tunnel vision, a condition, Gavel describes, where drivers become dazed looking at the white painted lines on the highway and lose sight of other aspects of the road.

"You can zone out. That's what you have to guard against," he says. "Getting out of your truck every couple hours to walk around or stretch helps freshen your mind and wake you up."

Call of the open road

Ask Gavel why he happily volunteers as a Road Knight, all while keeping a full-time yard supervisor position at Bison Transport in Edmonton, and he will respond by telling you where he's been, what he's experienced and what he loves about trucking.

In short, he is a true industry ambassador.

"It's the excitement and the unknown, going where you've never been before," he says about the places his work has taken him.

He's travelled all over the United States and Canada, first hauling asphalt when he was 18 in his hometown of Woodstock, New Brunswick to transporting fuel on ice roads and single-lane portages to Diavik and BHP Billiton diamond mines just a couple hundred kilometers from the Arctic Circle.

Keep calm and truck on

The Road Knights are stepping out of the cab several days each month to meet with community groups, business associations, driving schools, seniors' organizations and service clubs as part of their free outreach program. They hope to help increase awareness about the trucking industry.

Gavel points out that the industry offers many career paths other than driving, such as maintenance operation, dispatch, invoicing, warehousing, and driver development.

Helping to improve highway safety is also part of the Road Knights' mission.

"If you have a good attitude and good frame of mind and don't let things bother you, you're going to be more focused on what you're doing behind the wheel," says Gavel, who admits that it's a lifelong practice to stay cool and collected.

The right attitude, a positive outlook and the occasional good stretch has proven to be a winning combination. It's kept Gavel collision-free for nearly two million kilometers...and counting.


2011 poster: trucker stretchingTrucker stretching. PDF.


snap shots of activities

Trucker and Road Knight champion Craig Gavel encourages drivers to get out of their trucks and stretch out

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