The story of paraplegic truck driver Mike Dingler, told on Trucker News Blog, will inspire and amaze you. His story needs to be shared. Dingler embodies the true spirit of the truck driver– never give up, and keep on truckin’.
As I’ve written in the past, one of the things that makes the trucking industry so compelling to write about is its people. The Canadian trucking industry is comprised of hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life. And practically every one of them has an interesting story to tell.
Let me introduce you to Mike Dingler, an owner/operator with International Truckload Services (ITS) in Belleville, Ont. Mike works the nightshift, running drop-and-hook domestic loads between ITS in Belleville and customers in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Brantford to the west and Cornwall and Brockville in the east. What’s extraordinary about Mike, is that he does all this despite being confined to a wheelchair.
I recently spent an evening with Mike, as we ran a load of paper from ITS’s Belleville yard up to the space it leases from Maritime-Ontario in Brantford and then back to Belleville with an assortment of general freight. I’ll be telling his story in the June issues of Truck News and Truck West. But when I have a good story to tell, I have a really hard time keeping it to myself “ even just temporarily – so I’ll share a few details with those of you who frequent this blog.
Mike is 44 years old and has always been mechanically inclined, spending his younger days tearing down engines, transmissions and other components and then carefully reassembling them. He lived on a farm in Durham Region and was comfortable operating heavy trucks and farm equipment from a young age. At the age of 20, he fell asleep while driving a pick-up truck with a load of wood and careened 151 feet off a dead-end road before a large tree abruptly stopped the truck in its tracks.
I never broke one bone in my body but it tore the main aorta from my heart. I don’t remember anything, he told me. Mike was airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital and once stabilized, sent to the renowned Lyndhurst Centre for rehab. They were to teach him how to use his wheelchair, but after several weeks of being put off by doctors, Mike called a buddy to come pick him up. He left the rehab centre and learned how to get around in the wheelchair on his own.
Since then, Mike’s been getting by on a $1,000 monthly disability cheque and doing odd jobs to make ends meet. He decided he wanted to earn a better living, get off disability and improve his lifestyle. So, he did what most of us would consider unthinkable and decided to pursue a career in trucking.
Of course it wasn’t easy. There are few, if any, paraplegic truck drivers out there, so off-the-shelf driving aids weren’t readily available. Mike found a 2004 Freightliner with a Meritor automatic transmission on Kijiji and traded his pick-up truck for it in a straight-up swap. He then built his own hydraulic lift system to get him in and out of the truck and installed controls allowing him to work the throttle and brake by hand. Mike then had to get the entire system approved by the MTO.