The love affair stuck, though it took a while to materialize. When she was 34, she left an acting and modeling career in Los Angeles to join the trucking industry she’d always admired.
The career change set Nowak up for a recent honor: Being named Overdrive‘s Most Beautiful winner for 2016. The award recognizes the accomplishments of female drivers and how their inner and outer beauty can enhance the image of trucking.
One of Nowak’s biggest trucking accomplishments – one that many of her male counterparts shy away from – has been mastering the art of delivering in Manhattan. Nowak, who lives in Jupiter, Florida, drives a dedicated route from nearby Miami to New York City.
She got started on that route one summer when she was searching for a load. It’s difficult to find good loads out of Florida in the summer, she says. She saw one going to New York and she decided to call on it. When she learned the load was headed to Manhattan’s Chinatown, she declined it at first.
“Then after I hung up I started thinking about it, and I was like why not, it’s a great load. So I called back again, and she said, ‘Well, if you’re uncomfortable it’s alright. Many, many people already called on this load and they all said the same thing that you did: nobody wants to go there. It’s scary,’” Nowak said. “And I don’t know, maybe that’s what it was. What made me take it. If everybody said no, all these guys said no, guess what? Then I’m going to say yes. So I said to the lady, ‘You know what, I’m going to take it. I’m going to do it.’”
The drive in Manhattan was not easy, but Nowak fell in love with the challenge and the energy of the city. A few months later when the same route became available again, the woman contacted Nowak and asked her if she’d like to drive the dedicated route regularly. She agreed.
“It’s still scary, and that’s good. It should always be scary to me. That’s how you survive and how you don’t let your guard down. I love that run,” Nowak said.
She also embarked on an intimidating venture when she moved from Berlin to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Among other screen credits, she spent four and a half-years on the outer space hit TV show “Star Trek: Voyager.”
“When it ended, I had been in the movie industry for 10 years and I thought this would be the perfect time to stop with good memories, without getting bitter,” Nowak said. “I thought now would be a good time to do what I always wanted to do: I always wanted to be a truck driver. So I just made that decision.”
She stopped pursuing television and movie auditions and instead pulled up trucking companies on the internet. She applied to the first one she found that offered a school. After completing driving school and working for C.R. England for two years, Nowak bought a truck and opened her own trucking company, BratCat Express.
“That I always knew I was going to do, I just couldn’t do it right away because insurance companies will not ensure you the first two years,” Nowak said. “You need some experience first.”
She wanted to open her own company so she could have the freedom to choose her loads and decide where she went. After driving OTR for two years, she knew which places she preferred and those she didn’t. Her favorite places included Tennessee, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“In order to be in trucking for a long, long time and not experience burnout or hate it after a while, I had to do that. And I paid the dues for that. I had to struggle to get the right loads and make myself a name, and I did, but I reap the benefits from it. I go where I want to go, and I love it. And I don’t want to go to Wyoming in the winter,” Nowak said.
She’s built connections at the warehouses and truck stops she frequents along the route. She feels she’s gained respect over the years for loading and unloading her own freight.
For women interested in the trucking industry, Nowak says simply, “Do it.”
“I don’t regret it. I actually wish I had done it earlier in my life. It is a very powerful experience. You maneuver a big piece of equipment; it boosts your confidence,” Nowak said. “It teaches you a new skill and you always have a job, always. If you get a CDL and you keep your CDL good, you will always have a job.”
Nowak still loves the trucking industry as much as she did when she first started. For her, trucking isn’t just a job.
“It’s my passion, even after all these years,” Nowak said. “I love what I do.”