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In anticipation of a Special Olympics fundraiser, athletes pull a full

Aug 26, 2023Aug 26, 2023

HANOVER TWP., LEHIGH COUNTY, Pa. — A full-sized FedEx airplane was parked on the tarmac at Lehigh Valley International Airport on Thursday.

Crews in reflective vests hooked up a cable system so it could be pulled by a rope from the ground.

The twist was that the 87-ton aircraft was going to be pulled by people — 25 of them. By hand.

The event was the kick-off for the Special Olympics' plane pull event, a Special Olympics of Pennsylvania fundraiser scheduled 2-10 p.m. Oct. 7 on the airport's air cargo apron for sponsor FedEx.

In the contest, teams of Special Olympics athletes will face off to see who can pull an aircraft 12 feet the fastest.

"Well, this fall, we're gonna have teams of 25 participants come out right here to the FedEx ramp at the Lehigh Valley International Airport and pull an Airbus 300," said Matt Aaron, chief executive officer of Special Olympics Pennsylvania, at the preview event.

"Sounds pretty easy, right? All you have to do is pull a plane 12 feet. Well, these planes weigh 175,000 pounds. That's more than 87 tons. So I'm not sure how easy it is, but we'll find out later today."

To participate in the Oct. 7 pull, teams must raise at least $2,500 ($100 per team member) for SOPA.

The Lehigh Valley Plane Pull is Special Olympics' newest event to raise funds to help ensure that nearly 3,000 athletes in the Greater Lehigh Valley Pocono Region have free access to year-round sports, health and leadership programming.

One of the athletes, Amy Williamson, took the podium to pump up the crowd and athletes. She said she's been a track and field athlete with the Special Olympics for more than 15 years, and said she's benefitted from it.

"The Special Olympics taught me teamwork, responsibilities and leadership," Williamson said.

Barely containing her excitement, she then grabbed the microphone and yelled, "Now let's pull that plane!"

On Thursday, the athletes got in position near the rope. Some, including Matt Anthony, wore weightlifting gloves. Anthony was the "anchor" of the preview team, meaning he stood at the very end of the rope, a in a game of tug-of-war.

Asked how he was feeling, Anthony said, "You just have to have confidence and the Lord himself will prevail the strength you need."

Anthony wore three medals around his neck — two bronze and one gold. The bronze came from bocce ball, he said, and the gold came from a baseball game that lasted 13 hours due to a rain delay in Florida.

After a countdown from event staff and ground crews, the athletes pulled on the rope, and the plane jolted down the tarmac, finishing the 12-foot course in a matter of seconds.

Afterward, everyone cheered, and the athletes high-fived each other.

Williamson said it could have gone even better.

"There was no muscle!" she said, sparking laughs from the other athletes.

One chimed in to say, "It was heavy."

Anthony replied, "All the muscle was in the back," where he was.

More information is available on the Special Olympics PA website.