HAMILTON, Ohio – The average person in Greater Cincinnati spends about 45 minutes a day rocking out to the radio, chatting on a cellphone or nearly causing a wreck during the daily commute. Think of what you could do with all that lost time.
Big John Drury, the Dancing Trucker, uses his time behind the wheel to dream up routines for his new exercise DVD, which he recorded Sunday after five years of waiting and hoping to become the next Richard Simmons.
The 10-song compilation will get viewers sweating to the music of country singer Tony Justice once it’s released in early March, and a companion website will go online in mid-February at bigjohnsdancefitness.com. At 6 feet 7 inches and 340 pounds, the 46-year-old Drury doesn’t look like your typical fitness guru.
But, he said, that’s the point.
“Even though I lost 100 pounds, I gained half the weight back. It’s a continuous struggle to lose the weight and keep it off,” Drury said. “I can play maybe a small role in someone’s life being turned around. Whether it’s weight loss, low self-esteem or believing in themselves again, just a little bit of hope. I can do something for somebody through this dance fitness.”
Drury logs up to 12 hours a day ferrying Coca Cola fountain syrup up and down I-71 between Columbus and Fairfield, so he knows it’s not always easy to fit exercise into a hectic schedule.
However, Drury wants his routines to be accessible and easy to follow for anybody, even 400 or 500-pound truckers whose careers require long hours of sitting and quick meals from greasy spoon diners.
There won’t be any six-packed gym rats or Zumba fanatics demonstrating the DVD’s moves, but rather Drury’s 14-year-old son Peyton and three regular women who have been involved with Drury’s classes in the past few years.
“There’s a lot of people that can’t follow that (Zumba) stuff. It can get discouraging for a lot of people,” Drury said, noting that his moves are effective and fun for people of all shapes and sizes. ”You’re going to feel like you’re accomplishing something with this.”
After years in and out of Weight Watchers, a “Biggest Loser” challenge from local radio station KISS 107 sparked Drury’s 100-pound weight loss in February 2011. The deal netted him a free personal trainer and gym membership, which exposed him to Zumba dance fitness classes.
In no time, Drury was getting certified to teach Zumba himself, but he didn’t like the rigid class structure that requires featuring mainly Latin music.
“I want to do my own thing and dance to the kind of music I want to dance to,” Drury said. “When you drive down the road and you’re listening to the radio, to a good Justin Timberlake song or Rihanna song … you just want to be relatable as far as music and who I am as an instructor.”
However, those pop and hip-hop songs he’s been using for Big John’s Dance Fitness classes these past few years come with hefty licensing charges in the tens of thousands of dollars should he want to feature them in an exercise DVD.
Even though Drury says he’s not a huge fan of country music, a big break came when he was hosting a recent Facebook Live video featuring the music of trucker Tony Justice. Drury threw out a comment that he’d love to feature Justice’s music in his exercise DVD, and before he knew it, Justice reached out through Facebook and gave Drury permission to use his songs.
“The more I dug into the idea of making this DVD, the more things worked out. I’m a believer, and I have faith in God. It’s just weird how things fall into place,” Drury said, wearing a T-shirt with HOPE emblazoned across its front.
That faith helped Drury push through when the unthinkable happened last year: A drunken driver struck and killed his mother on her way to church.
“It was something I thought I almost couldn’t overcome," Drury said. "Something so tragic, but I think my mom’s proud of me with what I’m doing and picking myself off the ground and dusting myself off."
That determination caught the attention of Matt Manero, president of Commercial Fleet Financing in Dallas, Texas, which has been financing truckers’ needs for 22 years. Manero found Drury’s ability to overcome “unbelievable bad luck” in both weight loss and his personal life so inspiring that he offered to foot the $2,000 bill to produce the DVD with Jeff Hill Video out of Mason.
“What does he do? He continues plodding along, trying to make a difference,” Manero said. “This guy is the epitome of ‘stick-to-it-ness’ and grit and dreaming.”
Commercial Fleet Financing’s team also volunteered to create Big John’s Dance Fitness website for free to handle DVD sales and possibly stream clips from the DVD online for subscribers. Manero doesn’t expect to get paid back or to see any of the proceeds from sales.
“Health and fitness is a huge problem in trucking with our customers, and John seems to be leading the way,” Manero said. “We thought it was a bargain to help somebody who’s so committed … We won’t take one nickel of the proceeds.”
Another $425 came in from a GoFundMe campaign that Drury kicked off in December to raise money before Manero chipped in his big contribution.
All that dedication and energy may eventually earn Drury a visit with the reigning queen of daytime television: Ellen DeGeneres. Four years after he first told WCPO that he hoped to feature his dance moves on her talk show, the dream still holds.
“If we played a small part in (getting Drury there), how incredible would that be?” Manero said.