Mary Powell, the president and CEO of Green Mountain Power, Vermont's largest utility, suffered a minor bruise, but was overjoyed at having participated in the popular demolition derby Wednesday night at the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction.
"People probably found it surprising," Powell said of her participation, noting most of the competitors in the field were men about half her age.
The goal of the demo derby is pretty simple: you want to be behind the wheel of the last car that is still drivable after smashing, crashing and bashing your way through the field.
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"I love new experiences," Powell said.
For many years, Powell attended the event and thought it would be fun to participate one day. She praised Nate's Automotive of Essex, Vermont, for providing critical help in outfitting her with a car that was ready for the rough-and-tumble competition.
Powell told necn she was a bit worried about her "54-year-old's neck," but did not feel much soreness a day after the competition. She said she felt safe because of her helmet, goggles, flame-retardant suit, and extra-sturdy seat belt for protection.
Powell said she believes the silver dollar-sized bruise on her arm may have been from a flying rock that got kicked up on the field. Participating vehicles have their windows and windshields removed before entering the derby.
"I was a little worried," admitted Powell's friend, Bill Wetherbee, who was cheering for her Wednesday night. "Just because I like her a lot and I didn't want to see her hurt!"
Powell, in her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed car number 17, took some really big hits, and got in a few of her own. She attempted a strategy of risk avoidance, by dodging other cars while making just enough contact with other vehicles to stay in the competition.
After a few minutes, Powell's vehicle got tangled up in a mess of other beat-up clunkers. She told necn Thursday that her pit crew told her a problem with a fuse prevented her car from moving. The vehicle would be repaired and used again in a later heat, Powell said, with its designer from Nate's Automotive performing well.
"It was even more fun than I expected it to be, but the hits were a lot harder than I expected them to be," Powell said after the race.
The CEO said her wild ride enabled her to raise more than $1,700 for the United Way of Chittenden County. Much of that came from donations made by her employees.
"The carnage that's going on out there is unreal," Green Mountain Power employee Ken Couture said after watching video of Powell's demo derby run. "We're used to seeing Mary working on all the other initiatives the company's doing, and this is certainly mixing it up a bit!"
If there is a lesson for business people in this, Powell said it's that a lot of times, leaders just have to jump right into big challenges that at first may seem a little scary.
"With work, and with life, and anything, it's being adventurous, being a little courageous, trying new things, but making sure you're safe," Powell told necn.
Powell said she was frustrated with her middle-of-the-pack finish, so she is already considering another attempt next year.
This year’s Champlain Valley Fair runs through Sept. 6. For more information on the events, visit this website.