At only 20 years of age, Emily Coe had spent years perfecting her craft as a dancer, but after getting a taste for truck driving, she has no plans of turning back.
Based in Wollongong and working for Hornby Transport Services, she currently holds an unrestricted HC licence and plans to upgrade to her MC as soon as she can.
Coe started ballet when she was only two-years-old. “My mum originally put me into dancing because I used to trip over my feet when I was walking, so it was to help with my coordination. Once I got to around 10 or 11, that’s when I started pushing myself really hard. At that age most people aren’t thinking about a career, but I knew that if I didn’t do it then, it wasn’t going to happen,” explained Coe.
She turned to home schooling so she could begin dancing full time by the age of 13, and then at 15 was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School in New York.
“I went to New York on my own so I had to grow up really fast. The hardest thing was that if I got sick or needed anything, I was so far from home.
“I knew my parents didn’t want me to go but they wanted me to do what was going to make me happy. I don’t think they expected things to happen as quickly as they did, but they supported me.”
Her stay in New York however was only short-lived. Coe was there for just two months when she ended up breaking her foot.
“Not long before that I was off with an injury for close to 12 months due to stress fractures down my shins. I was doing dancing in the pool because it was weightless and I was on crutches, so I could slowly get back into dancing. Then I was doing stuff where I could hold onto a bar or something like that, so I had the support. I came back for a couple of months, then went to New York, where I broke my foot.
The thought of getting out of dancing altogether had crossed her mind numerous times before she ultimately made the decision to call it quits.
“It’s a very tough industry to be in mentally. Before I actually quit, there were a couple of times I wondered why I was doing this to myself. I felt like I was torturing myself physically and mentally,” Coe revealed.
“Ballet’s a career that demands punishing practice routines, pain and tears; as well as skipping nights out with friends to stay in the studio to perfect routines ahead of big performances.
“It’s a career that requires commitment and dedication from a young age. It’s also a short-lived career, and you’re always battling against time to reach perfection, so you need as much of it on your side as possible.”
Coe says life as a professional ballerina is physically and mentally tough.
According to Coe, a career in ballet dancing usually lasts until just 25 – though some can push it out to around 30 if they’re lucky. “It’s purely the fact that’s it’s a lot of pressure mentally and physically. There comes a time when your body gives up on you, so you know it’s time to give it up,” she said.
“The teachers who trained me were very strict, even with eating. Unfortunately, a big part of ballet has to do with the way you look. You have to be very thin, which is a horrible thing.
“After years of dedicating my heart and soul to dance, I realised one day that I was a professional ballerina looking for a career change and trucking was where I wanted to be.”
Though the switch from ballet to trucking might seem like a giant leap, for Coe that wasn’t the case. She grew up around trucks as both of her grandfathers, and her uncles, were drivers. And she used to be in the truck with them a lot as a kid.
Despite trucking being in the family, the thought of driving them had never really crossed her mind. “I never really expected to be driving trucks, it wasn’t my plan, but here we are. I was a professional dancer prior to this, so it’s definitely a big career change,” said Coe.
“I always did love trucks – I loved going out with my pop and everything like that. It was something I was always interested in, but dancing was my main thing. However dancing careers don’t really last for too long. I got to a point where I wondered if it was something worth doing, when I wasn’t going to have a long-term career out of it.”
Initially Coe thought her career with trucks would be under the hood rather than behind the wheel. “I wanted to be a heavy diesel mechanic, but being as little as I am, I’m not really a physically strong person, so I knew that wouldn’t be the best option for me. A few people turned around and said why don’t you drive trucks. I didn’t want to do that at first. It wasn’t until about six months before I turned 19 that I made the decision to get my licence.”
By 19, Coe had her HR licence and approached Hornby Transport Services looking for a job. “A day or two after I got my licence, I brought in my resume and they took me on straight away.
“They asked if I was sure that this was what I wanted to do. I told them if they were going to give me a chance, I’d do all I can to be the best driver I can be.
“It’s been non-stop support ever since. It’s more than I ever expected and more than I could have asked for.
“They took me on at 19 and gave me a go. It was a big thing for them as well as for me. A lot of people had told me I wouldn’t be able to drive trucks because of my size and because I was so young. I’ll be forever grateful to the company for giving me a go.”
Started in 1976, Hornby Transport Services is a family-owned and run business, with scrap metal logistics playing a major part in the company’s operations.
Coe is the youngest truck driver at the company and says the training and support provided by the Hornby family has been incredible. She went through a week of training in a rigid before being sent out on her own, driving a small 10-wheeler. As soon as she turned 20, she progressed to her HC.
“Before I went for my HC, my supervisor and allocator took me out and taught me in a manual because I had never driven a manual before,” said Coe, who ended up passing her test with flying colours.
“Then they really put me to the test. They put me in an old manual Mack and said this is how you’re going to learn. I was in that for about three weeks with another driver. They weren’t going to let me go out on my own until I was 100 per cent confident in myself. Then they gave me some training to do what I do now. When they asked if I was ready to go out on my own, I said hell yeah, I couldn’t wait.”
These days, you’ll find Coe running the Pacific Highway somewhere between Wollongong and Newcastle, carting heavy and shred metal in a Freightliner Cascadia, which she’s been driving for the past few months.
Six months on since securing her HC, Coe already has her sights set on something bigger, holding a learner’s permit for her MC.
“Every day is a new experience and there’s always something new to learn. Personally, I love it. This has become a big passion for me and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I think this will be a career for the rest of my life.”
And as for her dancing, she says she’d like to get back into it at some stage. “It’s still a big mental thing for me. I started my professional dancing career so young that I don’t ever remember dancing as a hobby. But dancing still holds a special place in my heart.”
This feature first appeared here.