When Life Gives You Lemons

On March 3, Mark Yatich of Kenya won the Los Angeles Marathon in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 52 seconds. A great accomplishment, by anyone’s standards. But his performance paled in comparison to that of Bob Wieland, who completed the same 26.2 miles in 173 hours, 45 minutes. Wieland walked the entire marathon. On his hands.

A Vietnam vet, Wieland lost both legs to a land mine. Such an injury would devastate many people, leaving them bitter. But instead Wieland uses his disability to inspire and motivate: He walked the marathon in part to honor our troops overseas.

When I heard Wieland’s story, it made the aches and pains I face as I train for my first marathon seem insignificant. It also brought home the words a veteran marathoner used to inspire my friend Carolyn as she completed the final grueling miles of her first marathon. “Pain,” he told her, “is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Pain has always been a given in the trucking industry. But current conditions would try even the toughest trucker’s soul. Record-setting fuel prices, skyrocketing insurance costs, a sluggish economy and anemic freight rates make for a business environment that’s challenging, at best. And in many cases, there’s little you can do to ease the pain of these market conditions. Whether or not you suffer, however, is up to you.

Take owner-operator Mary Rybicki of St. Petersburg, Fla. Despite Overdrive research that indicates 53 percent of owner-operators believe this year will be worse than last, she remains positive.

“Even though the price of fuel is rising, it’s forcing me to take a better look at our operation,” she says. “I am finding many ways to make budget. I am now doing my own service work, and I make sure I’m not deadheading.” Rybicki is not alone. Twenty-two percent of you believe 2003 will actually be better than last year, and 25 percent expect your business this year to be about the same as in 2002.

But, there’s no question that the pain you’ve endured has taken its toll. Currently, about 153,000 owner-operators driving Class 8 trucks travel our nation’s highways, compared to 168,000 in 2000, according to Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting. Clearly, those of you who remain, like Rybicki, have found ways to make lemonade out of life’s lemons. You’ve watched costs closely, extended your trade cycles and evaluated the profitability of each load. You have refused to play the victim.

Like Wieland and Rybicki, we all face challenges in our professional and personal lives. Whether we fail or succeed is often a matter of choice. In your continued struggle with the trials this industry throws your way, take a page out of their book. Exercise your option not to suffer.