Renee Pudnak was too nervous to enter the room for the ceremony honouring her work with Agnico Eagle Mines and winning Meadowbank’s Michel Létourneau Award.
“I had to go to the restroom to take a breather,” said Pudnak, from Baker Lake but now living outside Montreal. “I was pacing back and forth, trying not to freak out.”
All the big bosses were there, including Létourneau himself.
“My husband kept texting me to come back (into the room), but I was not ready,” recalled Pudnak.
When it was time for her to finally walk in, she was frozen – hardly remembering if it was her husband or someone else who came to get her and bring her in.
“Receiving this award was overwhelming, but exciting,” she said.
Pudnak is the first woman to achieve Class 1 heavy equipment operator status at the Meadowbank Complex, marking a significant milestone in the company’s northern operations.
She received the 2021 Michel Létourneau Award July 28, presented annually to an Agnico Eagle employee or team who makes a strong contribution to teamwork, productivity improvements, cost control, innovation, accident prevent or health and safety.
It was a long way to come for Pudnak, now married with two young children, who started as a housekeeper in 2011.
“There was an opening for haul truck training, so I signed up for it, had some training and passed all the tests that were given,” she recalled.
She continued to advance her career from there, making a move to the energy and infrastructure department and then eventually earning the Class 1 heavy equipment operator status, which qualifies her to maneuver large equipment.
“I operate pretty much everything,” she said.
That includes 150-tonne haul trucks, 980 loaders, 50-tonne water trucks, vacuum trucks, buses, rubber tire backhoes, forklifts – “you name it, I’ve operated it before.”
The biggest challenge along the way has been missing her family for her two-week shifts.
“They are my biggest supporters,” said Pudnak. “My co-workers and boss help me out when I need it too. We are called the Dream Team for a reason.”
She loves her job because it’s something different every day. Her favourite task is being part of the emergency response team, sometimes acting as the incident commander or captain.
“Working with the mining industry is not easy, especially having young children,” said Pudnak. “I just take it one day at a time and remember who I’m doing it for. They may not know it now but they will when they are older, that I am doing my best as a mother and as an operator.”
She’s proud of how far she has come for Agnico Eagle, with her next goal to become interim supervisor.
“If you want to do something, just give it a try,” said Pudnak when asked what advice she would give younger people looking to enter the industry. “Even if it takes more than one try, it’s OK. Just take it one day at a time and don’t ever give up. If I can do it, so can you.”
And if someone says you can’t do it, “do it twice and take some pictures,” she joked.