We first “met” Mary Catherine Domaleski as a featured cover lady in the January 2006 issue of Fayette Woman. Her motivating story highlighted challenging lifestyle changes she made after the sudden death of her 58-year-old mother. This “wake up call,” fueled Mary Catherine (MC) to lose weight, get fit and become a personal trainer to inspire other women.
Today, Mary Catherine still lives in the house in Fayetteville where she grew up, now with husband, Joe, and her two younger children, and she still continues to inspire people with new adventures. Recently she won first place in the Fayette County Transportation Department’s Bus Rodeo! It’s hard to believe this petite woman drives a school bus, but drive one she does, with award-winning skill.
When I asked MC how she got started driving a school bus, she said, “When the recession hit, we realized we needed more affordable healthcare. Joe is self-employed and medical premiums are high. I heard about the opportunity to drive a school bus part-time and receive medical coverage for my family.” In 2010, Mary Catherine began the process to become a bus driver.
Although MC had “never driven anything bigger than a mini- van,” she passed all the stringent requirements and became a substitute driver for six months until she earned her first school route. Since then, she has driven a bus for several different Fayette County schools and for the last four years, has enjoyed the same route, driving students to Sarah Harp Minter Elementary, Whitewater Middle School and Whitewater High School. A consistent route has given her the chance to build relationships with her students, their parents and the teachers and staff at the schools.
MC has a full work day that starts early! She teaches fitness classes at World Gym on Thursdays and Fridays at 5:15 a.m. before she starts her bus route. On days when she is not at the gym, she leaves home each school day at 6:28 a.m. exactly! Her bus is parked at home, so it saves her time and she is able to pick up her first elementary students at 6:47. Her morning shift finishes by 8:45. Her afternoon shift starts at 2 p.m., and she is back home parking her bus by 4:45. In the middle of the day, MC works as a trainer, teaching other potential bus drivers how to drive and maintain a bus. She also helps in the office and sometimes drives students on field trips or athletes to their games.
Mary Catherine loves her job, and wishes bus drivers got more respect and validation. “We have a challenging job that requires we remain sharp and attentive – always looking around for an unanticipated danger. When students are running late or it’s raining, or parents are rushing to bring a student a forgotten item, things can get challenging. And yes, cars continue to run the bus stop signs, making a situation really dangerous. Things can change in an instant.”
Winning first place in the county-wide bus rodeo is quite an impressive accomplishment that required Mary Catherine be judged on her proficiency in a series of tough challenges, including pre-trip bus inspection, driving a bus through a reverse and forward serpentine, maneuvering through sharp turns, parallel parking, following correct protocol at a railroad crossing, a mock student pick up and several more! After talking to MC, I realize how well-trained our bus drivers are, and parents can be confident they are leaving their children in competent hands!
This year has been exciting for both MC and Joe. In addition to winning the local bus rodeo, Mary Catherine was honored as the “2018 Bus Driver of the Year” at Whitewater High School! Joe, who owns Country Fried Creative, a digital marketing company, received the “Outstanding Business Person of the Year” honor from the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.
Mary Catherine and Joe are starting to see the “empty nest” in their future. “Joe and I are preparing for when the kids will be gone and what is next for us.” Oldest daughter, Alex, just graduated from Georgia State and daughter Tori is a freshman there. Stephen is a junior at Whitewater High School. MC reflects, “I am in a good place right now. I am very happy where I am but always look forward to a new adventure. Joe and I are always looking for new opportunities.”