With her long, black hair and a smile as bright as the headlights on her truck, Saundra Coachman doesn't look like a postcard version of Mrs. Santa Claus.
But the 5-foot 5-inch, 110-pound United Parcel Service driver may be the closest thing to it.
"I'm just like Mrs. Claus. I bring joy to people," Mrs. Coachman said, "especially children when their grandparents send them packages for their birthday. Their faces just light up.
"One young girl was sitting on the sidewalk one day when my truck rolled up. She jumped up, 'Is it for me, is it for me?' I handed her the package. 'It's from my grandmother. It's my birthday,' she said. Then she grabbed the package and ran into the house with it. I wish I had a camera that day."
Mrs. Coachman, who went to work for UPS in 1982 and began driving in 1985, had 16 years of safe driving as of July 1.
"She's a very good employee. She comes to work every day and is very service oriented and very concerned about providing good service to her customers," said Danny Ferguson, business manager for UPS' Augusta center.
UPS drivers must be at least 21, have a good driving record, be able to lift 70 pounds and undergo extensive training.
"We're kind of like the Marines. We only take a few good men," Mr. Ferguson said.
Or, in this case, women.
Six of the 62 drivers for the Augusta center are women. Drivers typically work about 9 1/2 hours a day and "spend a good four or five hours walking," Mr. Ferguson said.
On average, they handle about 250 packages a day and make about 165 stops for pickups and deliveries.
Mrs. Coachman's customers are just as eager to see her as she is to see them.
"She's super," said Mike Smith, manager of CVS Pharmacy on Belair and Columbia roads. "She's so bouncy and vibrant to be such a little woman. She's always so pleasant. Every time she comes in, she just makes our day."
Mrs. Coachman begins her route about 9 a.m. and drives about 85 miles before the day ends about 7:30 p.m.
"I love each and every day of it," Mrs. Coachman said. "My customers are the ones who help me get through the day. And when I get to the end of the day and look at the back of my truck, I give thanks to the Lord that he helped me do it."
She said her mother is her biggest inspiration, the one who instilled her positive outlook on life.
"As my mom said, 'Never say never.' You can do anything once you put your mind to it," Mrs. Coachman said. "Being a black woman, hey, you can go for the gusto. My mom, she's my friend, my buddy, my girlfriend, and she's given me strength. She's the one that said, 'Saundra, go get it, girl.' If it's there for you, the good Lord up above will give it to you. That's what I have. I've got it."
Mrs. Coachman has a hand-truck to help her deliver heavy packages. The Christmas holidays can be particularly grueling, but UPS does hire additional help.
"It's very hectic. You have to stay focused from one stop to the next," Mrs. Coachman said. "I'll usually have a helper, and I'll drive and he or she delivers. They have to have their Rollerblades on."
The best part of her job, she said, is meeting people.
"People just make me high," she said.
But the physical demands can be taxing. That's when her husband, Russell, helps motivate her.
"Sometimes I wake up and my bones will be aching, and he says, 'You can do it, girl.' And I say, 'Where is my Aleve?"'
OCCUPATION: United Parcel Service driver
FAMILY: Husband, Russell Coachman; four children, Saudrell Blount, 27, Rochelle Blount, 22, Gregory Blount, 19, and Tiffany Coachman, 16; two stepchildren, Brandon Coachman, 13, and Brianna Coachman 11; and two grandchildren.
QUOTE: "I love my job, and I love what I do. If I mess up, I can't fault anybody but myself."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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