CyRide driver wins national bus rodeo as rookie competitor

Nathan Shimanek has been driving for CyRide for 15 years. He recently won two honors at a national bus driving competition, known as a bus rodeo.

Courtesy of City of Ames

Nathan Shimanek has been driving for CyRide for 15 years. He recently won two honors at a national bus driving competition, known as a bus rodeo.

Emily Eppens

One of Iowa State’s CyRide drivers, Nathan Shimanek, was awarded first prize and honored as Rookie of the Year in his first national bus driving competition.

Shimanek, who is originally from Cedar Rapids, has worked with CyRide since 1999. He was urged by CyRide’s director, Sheri Kyras, to start competing in professional bus driving competitions, known as bus rodeos. Out of CyRide’s 140 drivers, about 35 competed.

“Almost all professional driving organizations, whether it’s truck drivers or if it’s dump truck drivers or even police officers, typically they all have some objective skills course,” Shimanek said. “We [at CyRide] call it a road-eo.”

During a rodeo, bus drivers are faced with various obstacles that they might encounter in day-to-day driving. They’re not only judged by their performance but by their time as well.

One of Shimanek’s favorite obstacles is when huge, 55-pound barrels are placed only three inches wider than the bus itself. Then the driver has to drive at 20 miles per hour through the barrels, even though they are barely wider than the vehicle. The driver then stops abruptly in front of a cone placed not far from the barrels. If a driver does not meet 20 miles per hour through the barrels, knocks down a barrel or is closer than 6 inches from the cone, points are deducted.

“Every once in awhile someone will be a little off, and a barrel will go flying.” Shimanek said with a smile.

Shimanek won the state competition last year, moving him to a spot in nationals this year, where he placed first in the nation against 68 other drivers. He also received the honorary Rookie of the Year, an award given only to drivers who win nationals their first time.

“I can thank Sheri for nudging me to be the best I could be,” said Shimanek. “Receiving the award was overwelming. I received a standing ovation from over 350 people, many my friends and peers. Everyone was so excited because they know how hard it is.”

Nearly all participants in the bus rodeos start out locally. The top four participants are then sent to compete in the state competition against other bus organizations, such as Iowa City, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Finally, the top drivers from the state competition are sent to nationals.

Shimanek said nearly every state is represented at the national competition.

After Shimanek’s first rodeo in 2007, Kyras, who has been with CyRide since 2006, put Shimanek in charge of organizing CyRide’s very own bus rodeo, which takes place once a year at the Iowa State Center.

“It’s about the only parking lot big enough,” Kyras said. “We’ve been looking into other locations, but none so far have been big enough. However, different transit systems around the state host the rodeos, and we hosted the state rodeo last year.”

CyRide is currently in its main push for hiring this year, as many drivers are needed for when the fall semester begins. When people apply to work for CyRide, they go through extensive training — 120 to 140 hours — before they are released to drive on their own.

“CyRide safety is very important. Our motto is ‘safety first,’ so we take that very seriously in our training program,” Kyras said. “We try to give the drivers the experiences that they will meet when they are out on their own providing that service.”

Kyras plays a large part in encouraging the drivers to test their skills and knowledge when participating in the rodeos as well as having fun with their time with CyRide.

“[CyRide is] definitely growing with the [student] growth at Iowa State, and with growth there are always challenges,” Kyras said. “These kinds of competitions and skill-building activities really do help in making the entire operation more safe as we continue to grow with Iowa State.”