She’s certified to perform marriages and he’s an experienced chef. They love the freedom of driving on open highways, hauling freight for a living.

Marylynn Downham and Brian Keyes have been working for Challenger since 2016, initially as team drivers and now driving separate big rigs.

The couple is quick to point out that they got along great while driving as a team, but their health took a beating. Keyes said team driving is a challenge due to tight schedules and you barely get time to prepare and eat healthy food. Finding time to exercise is also difficult. Being able to get proper sleep in a moving truck was also a problem.

Picture of Brian Keyes and Marylynn Downham
Brian Keyes and Marylynn Downham (Photo: Leo Barros)

In two-and-a-half years, Keyes piled on 50 pounds and Downham gained 25 pounds.

The couple decided it was time to wrest back their health. They said goodbye to team driving and began working separately.

They bought and installed 1.1 cubic meter freezers in their trucks. “We can make meals at home and freeze them and carry them. It made a big difference to our diet,” Keyes, the former chef, said.

The couple took a year to shed the weight they gained and has managed to keep it off.

Downham said drivers do not have to buy restaurant food and make themselves so sick that they can’t enjoy their retirement. Their trucks are equipped with air fryers, coffee makers, microwaves, and a freezer. “There is a healthier way to be a truck driver,” she said. “Get out of the truck and walk, it is crucial.”

“I’ve got my favorite places I like to stop at, I can walk and run.”

Brian Keyes, driver

Keyes said he sees a lot of people pull up in their trucks and not get out. They just close the curtains and go to sleep. “I’ve got my favorite places I like to stop at, I can walk and run,” he said.

Downham and Keyes met later in life. She worked in customer service and made her way up to management. Keyes worked as a chef for almost 30 years. He also drove tractors and shuttle buses in the past.

After managing a couple of motels together, the couple decided to enter the trucking industry and obtained their Class A licences.

They said Challenger makes sure to keep them together and most times they run as a two-truck convoy. The go in the same direction, head to different places to drop and pick up loads, and head back together.

“If we are going in different directions, we always cross each other. We talk, saying ‘we’ll stop here, or I’ll meet you there.’ And we spend time together,” Downham said.

“I got a girl in every port. She always shows up in a big white truck,” Keyes replied quickly with a huge grin.

Downham said she has a smile on her face when she drives and still can’t believe she is driving a big rig. She loves being her own boss and getting paid to see the sights.

Keyes finds the work relaxing. He only has to maintain a schedule, get to places on time and take care of the truck.

Daughter’s wedding

Later this month, Downham is looking forward to marrying her daughter and her girlfriend who have been together for the past 11 years. In the television series, Schitt’s Creek, Moira marries her son and his partner. Downham’s daughter asked if she would do the same and she said yes.

She has received a certificate and letter of good standing and is ready for her first ceremony.

The couple has bought a home in Red Deer, Alta., and are working hard to pay off the mortgage. They plan to drive for a bit longer after that.

Downham hopes to have more weddings to officiate in the future. “That is my retirement plan when I stop driving,” she said.


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