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A Drive Toward Fitness: Lebanon Bus Drivers Take a Trip to the Gym



Thursday, December 18, 2014
Lebanon — School bus driving might not seem like a very physically active vocation, but it has been for the last 10 months in Lebanon.

Twice per week, the city’s school bus drivers gather at CCBA’s Witherell Recreation Center for an hour of exercise instructed by CCBA fitness director Larry Ruffing.

Utilizing multipurpose equipment in Witherell’s “Synergy Studio,” the group rotates through exercise drills focused on suspension, weight and resistance training. Each member performs a round of 10 exercises for 35 seconds apiece, with a total of four rounds during the hour.

The classes began last February, when Lebanon School District transportation coordinator Wanda Hastings, who supervises the bus drivers, noticed that many of them were plainly out of shape. She considered it a safety issue, fearful that some drivers may not have been able to provide basic assistance to students during an emergency.

“They should be able to get in and out of the buses freely,” said Hastings, a Grantham resident who’s held her post for 24 years. “They should be able to get in out through the back door if they have to. They should be able to walk down the aisles.

“These classes aren’t mandatory, but we’ve had great participation. Eleven of the 16 drivers in Lebanon have taken advantage.”

Wednesday’s exercises included step-up lunges, medicine ball throws, front planks and TRX shoulder rotations among the arrangement of drills. Ruffing makes a point to vary drills from class to class so the only sure thing is participants will be sweating when they leave.

“That’s about the only thing they know. They’re not going to leave here dry,” Ruffing said with a smile. “Mixing up the routines are good because it keeps the body guessing. Plus, this way, it’s never dull or boring for them. They come in here and wonder, ‘What are we doing today?’ They’ve all been very receptive to the different exercises.”

The drivers’ own personalities also keep the classes from becoming humdrum. Many have become friends since the classes began, and breaks in the action are filled with good-natured chatter while everyone gets a chance to catch his or her breath.

“When we first started, a lot of them didn’t know each other, but if you look now, you see there’s a lot of joking back-and-forth,” Ruffing said. “There’s a lot of laughter. It’s good times.”

There’s also been plenty of physical improvement. Some who couldn’t perform a simple step-up lunge last winter are doing so today with ease, and 10-pound kettlebells have been shelved in favor of ones weighing up to 25 pounds.

The progress is a testament to the commitment of the group, which has increased in numbers since the program began.

“It’s been great to watch them grow physically and do things they didn’t used to be able to do,” Ruffing said. “They used to be able to only go one round before needing a break. Now they go two rounds. We started off with the 10-pound dumbbells, now we don’t even use ones that light.

“It’s a sign of their dedication. They’re committed. They show up. If I can’t be here, they do exercises upstairs with (CCBA Group Fitness Coordinator) Joanna Graber. That’s why they’re seeing the results that they have.”

Mike Ahern, of Hanover, has been a Lebanon school bus driver for four years. He said the classes have led to noticeable benefits in everyday life.

“I needed a push, and this was a great opportunity,” Ahern said. “I’ve lost a little bit of weight and I’m stronger all-around. I’m doing stuff a lot more easily that I use to struggle with, like mowing the lawn or, more recently, snow shoveling. The variety of exercises just helps with balance and coordination.”

Ed Chapin, 54, of Enfield, proudly works out in his blue jeans. He injured his elbow and back years ago while serving in the military and said the classes help alleviate some of the lingering discomfort. Chapin, one of only a handful of Lebanon bus drivers who work 40 hours per week, said the classes have also helped lessen the stiffness developed by continuously sitting for long periods behind the wheel.

“At my age and being a disabled veteran, these classes have really helped me loosen up,” he said. “Driving a bus for a living, you’re not really moving around a lot.”

The classes also offer participants the opportunity to fraternize and relate to others who drive school buses. Aside from Hastings — a longtime fitness enthusiast who showed off her biceps Wednesday — many of the drivers entered the courses with similarly limited experience in a gym.

“It’s definitely healthy socially. I feel like it makes them more of a team,” Ruffing said. “It’s kind of a ‘strength in numbers’ kind of thing. If you take a class with a bunch of strangers and some of them have been working out for years and years, it can be intimidating if you’re just starting out.

“This group has really grown along together, which is very encouraging to see as an instructor.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.