Female Zamboni drivers becoming more common in Capital Region

Rachel Reile was persistent.
Rachel Reile resurfaces the ice on the Zamboni at Messa Rink during a Union hockey game. Reile is one of two female Zamboni drivers at Messa Rink, and one of at least four women in the area who drive the ice resurfacer.
Rachel Reile resurfaces the ice on the Zamboni at Messa Rink during a Union hockey game. Reile is one of two female Zamboni drivers at Messa Rink, and one of at least four women in the area who drive the ice resurfacer.

Rachel Reile was persistent.

When Reile joined as an intern on the Messa Rink ice crew at Union College last year, she pestered Adam Brinker, Assistant Athletics Director of Facilities about wanting to drive the Zamboni.

After a member of the crew left Union, Brinker gave Reile a chance. He wasn’t looking for a trailblazer, per se, but he needed someone who could cut a path.

Reile, a Northville High School graduate, is a rare breed at the rink. Go to a random college or pro hockey game: Odds are you won’t find a woman behind the wheel of a Zamboni. In fact, a Google search came up with two female Zamboni drivers.

But that’s not right.

The Capital Region has at least four women who drive a Zamboni, the coolest rig on ice.

Reile, 27, now a full-time employee at Union, believes she is unique.

“I went to a Zamboni safety training course,” Reile said, “and I was the only female out of 29 people. It was different. It’s kind of cool. If you asked me two years ago if I would be driving Zamboni for my job, I would tell you no.”

It’s all part of a bigger plan. But starting out, Reile — who had no experience driving anything resembling a big rig — got frustrated learning to operate the ice resurfacer.

“I was really mad that I wasn’t good at it,” Reile said. “I don’t like being bad at things. Then I got really good at it. There’s a lot of components that you don’t think about. You think people drive around in circles and put water down. Then you have the entire men’s hockey team standing in the players’ bench waiting for you to finish your first cut by yourself, which is really intimidating, so you better not miss.”

Brinker said Reile picked up driving the Zamboni pretty quickly. Her hire, he added, had nothing to do with breaking down a barrier.

“She was right on it,” Brinker said. “She was the one that kept bugging me about wanting to learn, and I said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t give it a second thought about it if she was a woman. That never entered into it. She’s somebody who I got to know, trusted and feel like she can almost handle anything.

“The biggest thing you want is somebody who’s responsible, who’s conscientious — because that’s a $100,000 machine to replace and it’s difficult to fix.”

Jim Teresco, who has been attending Union games for 28 years, thinks it’s cool the Reile drives the Zamboni. He also notice she is not the only female at the rink to assume what had previously been a males-only role.

“When we saw her driving at the game against Colgate, a few of us in my section were trying to recall if we’d seen a woman Zamboni driver at Union games, and we couldn’t,” Teresco said. “So this season, we’ve seen the first female referee [Katie Guay, in the season opener against Sacred Heart] and the first female Zamboni driver at Union men’s games.”

But Reile isn’t even the only woman driving the Zamboni at Messa Rink.

Talia Salenger of Niskayuna has been driving the Zamboni at Messa for about five months. She’s a part-timer who drives twice a week.

“It was really intimidating at first,” Salenger said. “It’s hard to control. It’s like a big, scary machine. It’s really different from driving a car. It’s scary at first. But once you get the hang of it, it’s okay.”

Brinker doesn’t think it’s a big deal that he has two women driving the Zamboni.

“I don’t to it for any main reason other than finding good people that are available and that are qualified,” Brinker said. “It’s not like I set out to find women who could drive the Zamboni.”

Troy native Linda Chaplin is a veteran Zamboni driver. She has driven the Zamboni at Lansingburgh’s Knickerbacker Park Arena for 10 years. (Clifton Park Arena also employs a female Zamboni driver.) Chaplin doesn’t think her gender makes her special.

“I like hockey,” Chaplin said. “I like watching the game, so why not drive a Zamboni?”

For Reile, becoming an ice crew member and driving the Zamboni is the first step in a process. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2011 and a Masters in sports management in December 2014 at SUNY Cortland.

“I want to be an associate athletic director at a Division I college,” Reile said.

Getting in with Union is a step in that process.

“You learn a lot because you start at the bottom, but you get to see what the administration does,” Reile said. “When you’re an administrator, I think it’s important to know what the people at the bottom do.”

She’s just making her first cut in a different way.

Categories: Sports

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