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The drive to obesity

Here are the sobering statistics stacked up against drivers. In 2010, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration survey of more than 1,600 drivers found:

* Truckers are generally twice as obese (69 percent) as the rest of the working population (31 percent)

* They're generally twice as morbidly obese (17 percent) as the rest of the working population (7 percent)

* More than 50 percent of truckers smoke cigarettes, compared to 19 percent of the rest of the working population

* Truckers are twice as likely to self-report diabetes (14 percent) as the rest of the working population (7 percent)

* About 38 percent of drivers have no health insurance or coverage, compared to 17 percent of the rest of the working population

Danny George at one time topped 280 pounds.

Life on the road is hard. An over-the-road team truck driver with his wife, Cindy, George has carried goods near and far for 13 years for Chattanooga-based U.S. Xpress.

The trucker's life requires days of sitting — upwards of 11 hours behind the wheel a day. It's a life of deadlines, mile markers and the confines of a Freightliner or Mack cabin.

It's hard on the human body, leaving a majority of truck drivers overweight and obese. And it was hard on the Georges.

But they fought back.

And now, when the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga triathlon kicks off at 6:50 a.m. on Sunday, 51-year-old Danny George will be there. Competing. And trying his hardest to finish the grueling physical task in six hours.

This will be the culmination of 20 years' worth of intentional, self-driven fitness discipline for George. And of biking in strange towns, running in sub-freezing temperatures and swimming in 58-degree waters in preparation for the Ironman Chattanooga 70.3.

George trains when and where he can.

"If the truck stops, I get out and start running," he said. "I can't have a set training schedule."

U.S. Xpress asked if he would be interested in the May 22 triathlon back in March as part of the company's Highway to Health program, designed to incentive employees and drivers to do what George has done and fight back against health trends in the trucking industry.

George, no stranger to organized competition, agreed to compete in the Ironman Chattanooga event and represent U.S. Xpress drivers.

He wants to be a walking (or, running, swimming and biking) billboard for driver health. Of course it's tough to train as an over-the-road truck driver criss-crossing the country for a living.

It means attempting to train for the climate is laughable.

"One time I ran in minus-10 degree weather," said George. "I run when it's raining. I run when it's snowing."

He's been lost in the bad part of a new town. He once took a wrong turn in Tulsa, Okla., and accidentally turned his six-mile run into a 13-mile trek in 118-degree heat.

He wonders why North Georgia towns don't believe in sidewalks. And why pet owners sometimes leave their animals out on the loose.

"Oh wow, these people let these 19 mean pit bulls run free," George joked. "Who'd have thunk?"

George doesn't feel as fit as he'd like to be before the big race Sunday. He laughs, knowing he's going to roll out a 30-year-old bike he bought on Craigslist for $400 while other competitors jump on multi-thousand-dollar rigs.

But "whatever hay you got in the barn is what you got in the barn," he said.

He really wants to finish Sunday in six hours. But he'd be happy with six-and-a-half.

After all, what's 70 miles to someone who's used to driving more than 2,000 in a matter of days?

"I'm used to driving a 10- to 11-hour shift," George said Friday. "I know how to handle just cruising along, just maintaining. It's like, 70 miles? You're there when it's only 70 miles away."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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