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Faces of Trucking: Sulandraus

There are over 3.5 million truckers in America, and 3.5 million great trucking stories. This one is about Sulandraus, check it out!

Sulandraus Duncan holds a proud place in his family: He represents the third generation of truck drivers. Both of his grandfathers, his father, and his uncle were professional truckers. All told, Sulandraus says, "they have 60 years and five million miles" on the road.

And for the past decade, Sulandraus, 32, has been adding to that impressive record. Currently, he's driving a Freightliner Coronado truck for ELS Freight, based in Kenly, N.C., a flatbed carrier that hauls customers' cargo across the lower 48 states.

It's no surprise given his family history that Sulandraus was 3 years old when he rode in a rig for the first time. His aunt babysat him during the day while his mother worked. His uncle, who drove for a steel mill, was able to pick Sulandraus up in his rig to transport him home every day.

Little Sulandraus loved every minute of it, he recalls.

"Every day was a thrill for me," he says. "I just couldn't wait until my uncle arrived so I could ride in that truck. I knew then: I'm gonna be a truck driver."

But as with most people, Sulandraus' life segued here and there before he actually climbed into his first rig. First came football. He was the running back—a very good one—on his high school football team in Houston, Texas.

A scholarship to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth further diverted the truck driving dream, he says. "I had my heart set on that football path—go to college, get into the NFL, make millions."

But Sulandrus' father "kept me grounded," he says. "He told me, ‘Hey, you can't play ball forever. What do you want to study when you go to college?'" Sulandraus decided to get a degree in criminal justice and began his freshman year.

Sure enough, just as Dad had intimated, Sulandraus suffered a knee injury his first year playing football. "It was a pretty extensive injury," he says. "It got worse and worse. Rehab was very long and challenging. I finally decided I didn't want to put my body through that anymore."

So criminal justice it was. Once Sulandraus earned an associate degree from Houston Community College, he worked as a corrections officer—but not for long. The urge to get in the rig and on the road resurfaced.

"A few days after my 21st birthday, I was in trucking school in Dallas," he says. "I wanted to be on the road. I wanted to see it all."

He's been driving and loving it ever since. As he describes it, "Although you're sitting all day, it's different scenery, all day, too."

Today, Sulandraus is considered an owner-operator at ELS, he says. He has driven OTR and dedicated runs, but since June has been back OTR, all in the state of Texas.

As most truck drivers will tell you, there are challenges to this profession, so you should be able to accept and meet them, Sulandraus advises. Now the father of three sons, he is out on the road for about two weeks before returning home for three to four days.

You must accept that, he says. You also need to be independent and confident.

"You have to make a lot of decisions while you're on the go. A lot of the job is making decisions on your own. You're out there by yourself, they expect you to communicate and handle it. If you can't make decisions and have to be supervised, then this is not the profession for you."

Early on, Sulandraus enjoyed the leadership of older truck drivers who mentored him, he says, although new rules and regulations have made that harder these days.

But "I still do like it. I've got a lot of my buddies from high school who are now driving as well. If we're in the same area, we'll catch up, share information on what's going on with the industry. That's what you look forward to, friends you've made here."

Meanwhile, the money is good, too, he says. It depends on the company you work for, "and its relationship with the customers they're delivering to." ELS, he says, "is the best company I've ever worked for, hands down."

He makes a solid middle class-range salary, so he's not going anywhere. Career-wise, that is.

In that rig, he gets to go all over the place.

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