INDIANAPOLIS — Scores of people participated in this year’s edition of the Plane Pull Challenge to benefit Special Olympics Indiana held over the weekend at the former Indianapolis International Airport grounds. This was the 11th year for the event that challenges teams to pull a FedEx 747 weighing more than 164,000 pounds.
This year’s challenge was expanded to include a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and organizers are hoping to make that an annual event as well.
“I like to point out that when the first Plane Pull happened, we had 17 teams and now we’ve grown to 65 to 70 teams,” said Rita DeKlyen of Special Olympics Indiana. “We’re expecting the 3-on-3 basketball to grow just as well.”
Teams of 20 were each paired with a Special Olympics athlete to pull the plane 12 feet.
At the end of the day came a “Lowest Combined Weight Pull” event.
“As an example, a team may think they have three really big guys that can pull it by themselves, so they go pull,” DeKlyen said. “If they can’t, a fourth guy jumps in, and one keeps adding until you can. So if, say, it takes six people to pull it, we gather those six people and take them to an industrial scale and have them weighed. They don’t see the weight. Then there’s an award given to the lightest weight team that can pull the plane. It’s fun. You always have a group that think they’re really macho, think they can pull the plane, and then they can’t move it.
“It’s really interesting because you might think it takes a lot of strength, but it actually takes a lot of teamwork. You see a lot of people pulling, but they’re not pulling at the same time. A team that pulls as a team, once it gets going, it goes pretty quickly.”
Pilots in the cockpits of the plane apply the brakes to make it stop.
Last year, DeKlyen said, the one-day event raised $131,000 for Special Olympics.
Scott Furnish, also of Special Olympics Indiana, added, “The Plane Pull has grown to become our largest single-day fundraiser of the year. We’re very excited to celebrate our 11th anniversary with the event and our partnership with FedEx.”
DeKlyen said it’s the event’s uniqueness that brings out the donors.
“I think it’s that people love unique fundraisers and this is one of the wackiest ones around,” she said. “But it also serves the Special Olympics cause. Everyone can relate to our athletes who are just trying to do their best. And even though they may have intellectual disabilities, they want to participate in sports like you and I.
“We have 10 state championships that we put on throughout the year and the funds go toward that. It also goes to serve over 11,000 athletes that we have throughout the state of Indiana. Each year, the Special Olympics puts on over 2,500 events. Almost every day of the year, Special Olympics is either competing or training for a particular sport. We follow the same sports calendar that high school follows, so we have basketball in March and track and field at the beginning of June.”
For more information about Special Olympics Indiana, visit the website at soiindiana.org.