Convoy keeps on truckin’
The World’s Largest Truck Convoy really took on the sense of large when more than 60 trucks filled with Special Olympic athletes traveled U.S. Highway 281 Saturday.
The annual convoy partners Special Olympics Nebraska, law enforcement and truckers to raise money for the Special Olympics and have fun at the same time.
“There are convoys done in other states through Special Olympics but I think ours is a little unique in that we do two days,” said Katie Kellar, director of development with Special Olympics Nebraska.
On Friday night, the athletes compete with and against local law enforcement and truck drivers in a game of kick ball along with enjoying a meal and entertainment.
Then the main event is Saturday when the athletes pair up with drivers to ride from the Adams County Fairgrounds to Bosselmans Travel Center in Grand Island.
“It’s a fun event and it’s got a lot of history in the Hastings and Grand Island area,” Kellar said of the event now in its 15th year. “It’s really grown I’d say the last two to three years. The number of trucks has really grown.”
This year a total of 65 trucks were registered to participate and even with a few not showing up, this year still beat the record set in 2017 of 57 trucks.
Kellar said several companies support the convoy each year. Those include Werner Trucking, Fremont Contract Carriers, CPI and Walmart.
“Since this has been going on for 15 years, we have a lot of real friendships form,” Kellar said. “The athletes show up and they know which driver they’re riding with. They communicate year round with some of their drivers.”
Athlete Craig Siemon of Grand Island and trucker Gary Higgins of New York have been riding together for 14 years.
“The first year we didn’t know about it ahead of time but we were still at Bosselman’s waiting when the trucks came in. So he hasn’t really missed any,” said Kathy Siemon, Craig’s mother.
In the second year, Craig showed up and found Higgins near his Werner semi and asked if they could ride together. That started what has become a 14-year relationship.
“I just have fun,” Craig said of his love of it all.
“He enjoys it so much,” Higgins said. “He loves to talk on the CB and wants to blow the horn.”
That first year Higgins said there were 10 Werner trucks there. The next year he hoped to bring 20 and ended up with 17. Each year since then at least one more truck has been added. This year there were 37 Werner trucks in the convoy.
“I’ve been with Werner Enterprises 29 years and I’ve done a lot of things and this without a doubt is the most humbling thing I’ve ever done,” Higgins said.
Higgins said he plans to retire within the next year or two but none of them see it as the end of the friendship.
“We’ll just have to go out to New York to visit Gary,” Kathy said.
“Just cause I’m not driving a truck doesn’t mean I won’t be here,” Higgins said. “I’ll find a way out here.”
Some drivers closer to home who also participated included eight drivers with CPI.
Scott Hohensee of Sutton became involved with the convoy eight years ago at the encouragement of his sister who is a Special Olympics athlete.
“It’s a good organization,” he said. “It’s so helpful.”
Fellow CPI driver Mark Sadd of Harvard said he loves taking part in the convoy each year. This year marked the fourth year he and the same athlete have participated in the convoy together.
“He’s been waiting all night for me cause I wasn’t able to get in until this morning and he came up and said, ‘Are we going to do this?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ It’s awesome. These guys are just special. I love them.”
The convoy ends at the Bosselman Travel Center where they have a raffle, awards ceremony and grill-out for all the participants.
“This is one of our favorite events to come to,” Kellar said, “because it really does bring together the community and all of the athletes from the area.”