Woman keeps trucking despite degenerative joint disease diagnosis

Mandy ColeMandy Cole

After being diagnosed with degenerative joint disease two years ago, trucker Mandy Cole was told she might have to stop working. The Towanda, Pennsylvania native, however, was determined to keep driving.

“They were talking complete disability and that I wasn’t going to work again, that kind of thing. It’s extremely devastating because I’m not the type of person that’s just going to sit around and say okay,” Cole said. 

Her condition causes certain joints in the body to deteriorate. For Cole, it started in her left shoulder. She couldn’t raise her arm and it got worse over a year to the point where she couldn’t take her own shirt off. Her doctors decided to do a total reverse shoulder replacement because the worse the joint deterioration got, the more her muscles atrophied. Since her surgery, Cole says she is doing much better and has continued to pass all of her Department of Transportation physicals. She went to extensive physical therapy after surgery and frequented the gym. 

She first got her CDL in 2009 and is now a company driver for Hoover and Sons, Inc., which is leased to an oil and gas company. Cole does a lot of mountain driving to fracking sites.

“We’re doing oil field trucking right now so we don’t see a lot of interstate. It’s mostly these little backroads. We’ll do anywhere from five to 10 loads a night where we’re picking up something and delivering it to a frack site. It’s not two lane roads. It’s very steep roads,” Cole said. 

Many of the frack sites she visits don’t have any lighting. Most places she goes aren’t even paved, she says.

“It’s not like running truck down the road and you get the straight backs. Where we go, there’s frack sites where there’s no light at night. You get to be pretty skilled to do it. There’s not light, you’re not backing onto pavement, you’re backing into like six inches of mud. It gets pretty hairy sometimes,” Cole said. 

She hauls in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The trucking she does requires a lot of physical labor, but Cole grew up on a dairy farm so she’s well-acclimated to it.

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“A lot of this trucking is physical labor because I’m out by myself at these sites where I’ve got to haul these hoses around that are like 50 pounds and hook them up and unhook them, throw them back on the truck,” Cold said. “It’s very physical but with my background of working on the farm ever since I was born, it’s nothing to me.”

When Cole has down time, she likes to get back in the gym to keep her shoulder and body strong. She used to barrel race horses but hasn’t been able to do that since her surgery because she doesn’t want to risk a fall. She prefers spending most of her down time with her 12-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, and attending her softball games.