For the health of it

By Robert Lake
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Barry Pawelek from Hinton, Okla., knows first hand what it’s like to live an unhealthy life. Until four years ago, like many truckers, he didn’t eat right, exercise or have regular doctor appointments or yearly physicals. Then he got a wake-up call in the form of a stroke followed by a heart attack. He couldn’t believe it happened to him. He wasn’t overweight, didn’t smoke and didn’t have a family history of heart disease.

But the unhealthy lifestyle he lived as a long-haul truck driver contributed to his heart attack. After he recovered, he completely changed his lifestyle.

“I researched everything I could about heart disease and was amazed to find out that the typical truck driver had every single risk factor,” Pawelek says. “Things like smoking, eating fatty and sugary foods, stress, lack of regular health care, lack of exercise and mostly, lack of information that there were things you could do to improve your health, all lead to serious health consequences.”

He began an exercise program that included short runs, light weight lifting and breathing exercises. Eating healthily on the road meant choosing the salad bar at truckstops, skipping deserts, decreasing the size of meal portions and adding fresh fruits and vegetables to his diet.

Because he was so grateful for his new lease on life, he found himself taking every opportunity to educate fellow truckers about some of the health risks associated with trucking.

“I never preach to them or talk down to them,” he says. “I just try to tell my story and explain the research behind the lifestyle changes I’ve made.”

The response has been overwhelming.

“Truckers are desperate for health information,” Pawelek says. “They want to do better, but it’s really hard to change. I am amazed at how receptive they are to any information I can provide.”

Pawelek, 62, decided this was his mission – to spend his days bringing the message to truckers at truckstops and truck shows. His full-fledged tour – the Campaign for Driver’s Health ( – begins Jan. 1 and will include visits to all five trucking shows, trucking company events and truck travel plazas. His Kentucky tour trailer includes a Sony tour screen, nurses to provide free heart-health screening and information on how to lead a healthier lifestyle.

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“I want to help truckers make simple changes in their diet, exercise and lifestyle that can make huge changes in their health,” he says.

Even if you can’t make it to one of Pawelek’s stops, take his advice to heart to live a long, healthy life on the road.

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