In the winter, Siphiwe Baleka gets some strange looks as he bikes to work over the icy, snow-laden streets of Springfield, Missouri. He fishtails around corners and does his best to avoid cars—twice he’s been hit, and both times he’s walked away. At the headquarters of Prime Inc., a long-haul trucking operation with thousands of big rigs across the country, Baleka is an oddity rolling into work on his human-powered machine.
“People always say I’m a little crazy,” he told me, laughing.
When he arrives at work each morning, he sits down at his computer to analyze the data that’s come to him via Prime’s truckers. But the numbers that blip across his screen have nothing to do with shipping inventory, engine repairs, or oil prices—Baleka’s data points deal with nutritional intake, sleep cycles, heart rate, and physical-activity rates.
When he heads down the hallway to a meeting room with members of Prime’s fleet, the 43-year-old Ironman triathlete and U.S. Master’s Swimming National Champion transforms into a motivational speaker, health counselor, and fitness instructor.
At Prime Inc. and companies like it, there’s a dire need for Baleka’s type of expertise: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-haul trucking, with its 3.5 million drivers, takes the top spot for the occupation with the highest obesity prevalence. Because of this, along with other factors like traffic accidents, truckers as a group have a lower average life expectancy than the general population—one study put it at just 55.7 years for owner-operator truck drivers in the U.S., and around 63 years of age for union drivers. (The average for the U.S. overall is 78.7 years.)