Zamboni driver Kristen Sullivan learned how to run one of the 11,000-pound ice resurfacers while she was a student at the State University of New York in Cortland.
The Maple Shade High School graduate went on to complete her degree in Outdoor Recreation with a concentration in Outdoor Leadership while also picking up the ins and outs of the massive ice machine.
Now 26, Sullivan is putting all of that learning to good use, working full-time running a recess leadership program at a Northeast Philadelphia elementary school and spending nights and weekends at the Blue Cross RiverRink. She's one of five drivers there, the only female in the bunch.
Sullivan still calls Maple Shade home and, true to her Jersey roots, gets as far away from the ice as possible during the off-season with trips to the shore. Her beach of choice is Brigantine.
She talked with Natalie Pompilio about what it's like to be the center of attention at center ice.
What's your job title at Blue Cross RiverRink?
Zamboni operator. A lot of people call it Zamboni driver, but we do a lot more than just drive.
Why did you want to do this?
When you watch a hockey game everybody's eyes are on the Zamboni when it's on the ice. That little bit of a spotlight was appealing to me.
My boss [at SUNY-Cortland] was a woman and there aren't many female Zamboni drivers. She was beating the odds, being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and that appealed to me.
How do you do it? Is it hard?
There are a lot of things going on at once. Your left hand is usually steering while your right controls the blade and the water. You have to know how much ice to take off and how much water to put on.
You have to learn the patterns, but once you get them down, it's about knowing the ice and making sure it's good for the skaters. It took a while to get used to everything but it's almost second nature to me now.
What pattern do you prefer?
I go two laps around the boards and then down the middle.
The Zamboni usually hits the ice every two hours, and it can take between 13 and 25 minutes to finish the NHL regulation-sized rink. What do you do between rides?
First you have to dump the snow, usually to a big pile in the back. Then refill the water, which takes about 45 minutes. While the water is filling, there's time to clean the augers and troubleshoot problems as they arise.
Many of the folks I work with are good with machines. One guy worked on a farm and knows a lot about tractors. They fixed a pump and a pulley the other day, which is good because it helps me learn. It's not, "Hey, can you fix this?" It's "How do you fix this?"
Do you enjoy your work?
It makes me happy. If anybody says you can't do something because you're a girl, it makes me want to prove them wrong.
How do people respond?
I blow a lot of minds when I'm up on that Zamboni. There are little girls waving to me and I'm honking the horn at them, and the little boys are saying, "Girls can drive Zambonis, too. It's not just for guys."
Have you ever used your job to get a date?
I haven't, but a girl I worked with came to work in a beer maid's outfit on Halloween once and got a few phone numbers.
It's definitely a good pick-up line. "What do you do for work?" "Oh, I drive a Zamboni." You can't just end the conversation there.