Interview: ‘Ice Road Trucker’ Lisa Kelly talks insults, challenges and her return

Lisa Kelly is not a woman who likes to stay put. Calling me from the road in Alaska, the “Ice Road Truckers” and “IRT: Deadliest Roads” star apologized for the crappy connection. “I just don’t like to stay put,” she admitted. “Always like to stay moving; that’s me.” 

Fans of the show (which returns for season seven Sun. June 9 at 10:00 p.m. ET on the History Channel) might have noticed that Kelly wasn’t on deck last season (though she was on board for two seasons of “Deadliest Roads”). As for why she took time off, she insists if wasn’t any big deal, really. “I was just taking a break, trying to get grounded again.” Not that she was on vacation. During her “time off,” she kept on trucking, as usual.
I had to wonder, why bother? Since Kelly was still slogging loads down dangerous roads, why not just invite a camera crew along (and, in theory, snap up whatever additional pay History Channel might bring)? “It’s a lot different,” Kelly said of riding with cameras versus riding without. “When you’re filming, you have someone in the front with you the whole time. It’s tough being watched for three months non-stop. I enjoy being on the show, but that means half of the year you’re being filmed.”
So, a violation of privacy? Yes, but that’s not the real problem. “It slows you down a lot,” she explained. “You have to wait for them to set up, wait for them to film. You’re getting a lot of attention the whole time. I just wanted to be married, be with my pets, my husband, the normal stuff for a while.”
Still, a camera crew has got to be a friendlier presence for Kelly than some of her fellow truckers. A relative “newbie” despite having years of experience under her belt, Kelly is one of very few women in her industry. Still, her status doesn’t exactly win her kudos, and even when she matches (or beats) the big boys at the job, she’s still the subject of catty criticism over the CB radio as her fellow truckers call her unprintable names.
Her long-running battle to win the respect of legendary trucker Hugh Rowland ended in a blow-out battle on “Deadliest Roads,” and this season the two will be competing for dueling companies. Hugh’s stubbornness is sadly more the norm than an exception within the trucking community. “Some like [that I’m trucking], some don’t,” she says. “But you have to live your life, and you’ve got to be able to fight back. That’s the only way. If you fight back, that’s the only way for the insults to become banter.”
Still, nasty comments sting, even when they’re just from strangers on the Internet. “Nothing in my life is private anymore. I will always take constructive criticism, but people never really back it up with anything and they don’t realize you’re a person, not a character on TV. It’s really hard to be taking stuff like that. People ask, how much do you make? And I say, well, how much do you make? That’s not a polite question.”
As for what her husband thinks of the people ripping into his wife, Kelly admits, “He doesn’t really hear about it. I try to protect him from it a little bit. But he says to me, who are these people? No one to you. Just let it roll. And I do.”
Thus, Kelly stays focused on the road, at least when she’s not at home with her husband and menagerie (“I have seven animals; three horses, a cat and a dog”) or traveling (“I’ve done a lot on my bucket list,” she says, noting she’s been to four of the seven wonders of the world). Even though ice road trucking is inherently dangerous, Kelly is determined to stick with it.
She enjoys the “challenge of the job, because I like to learn and I’m always learning doing this,” and though she may not adore being filmed (though admits some of the show employees have become “lifelong friends”), she does see an up side. “I’ve had women coming up to me telling me that seeing me on television has helped them. Those stories, when you hear of how you’ve helped someone, are great to hear. When I get any feedback at all, it’s [the] best.”