Members of CrossFit Winter Garden — including Special Olympian powerlifters — showed off their strength during the Special Olympics Florida Annual Orlando Plane Pull.
by: Troy Herring | Sports Editor
As Special Olympian Michelle Feiner stood in line with her CrossFit Winter Garden Wolfpack teammates, she examined the 60-ton Boeing aircraft in front of her.
Sitting outside of the United Airlines hangar at Orlando International Airport, Feiner and the Wolfpack are among the 20-plus teams who had raised money to participate in the Special Olympics Florida Annual Orlando Plane Pull Saturday, Nov. 2.
The challenge is self-explanatory: Pull the rope and move the metal bird 15 feet as fast as you can.
It’s a challenge that Feiner and her team were up for, she said.
“I’m excited, like always,” Feiner said. “It’s fun — I did it last year. Last year I was a little intimidated, because it was my first time and I saw a big plane and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so scared,’ but this year I’m more confident.”
By the time the Wolfpack had gotten into position, the countdown had already ended as the team of 16 — including six Special Olympians and 10 gym members — planted their feet into the concrete and began pulling the large, commercial plane their way.
Inch by inch it slowly moved, before strength gave way to momentum — moving the plane the required 15 feet in just 8.48 seconds.
“I pulled really hard, and it was good,” said Calvin Sanders, one of the gym’s Special Olympians. “I was excited.”
This year’s plane pull was the sixth for Special Olympics Florida and raises money for the organization. Each team raised a minimum of $1,500 to participate in the event, with CrossFit Winter Garden raising $1,900 by itself.
Along with the money raised, sponsors like United Airlines and Orlando International Airport are important in keeping the event going — with United being the plane sponsor the last four years while MCO has offered up space for the pull.
And while the plane pull itself is a big deal, for the Special Olympians on hand it was the appearance of several WWE NXT Superstars — like Wesley Blake — that really grabbed their attention. The WWE NXT Superstars opened up the morning’s event with a plane pull of their own, before inviting the Special Olympians to pull alongside them for their second go-round.
“It’s wonderful that we get to do this — these are special athletes,” Blake said. “This will be my fourth year doing this, so I’m a repeat offender of coming here because I just love it — I love the atmosphere here. This is what the WWE is all about — having fun and giving back to our community, and putting smiles on people’s faces.”
PREPARING FOR THE PULL
This year’s plane pull was largely in line with what had been done in the past, except for one big difference — the Special Olympians were going to be on an actual team.
“This year we decide to do it differently and we decided to include our Special Olympian powerlifters as team members, so they’re pulling on a team with us, which is a first that hasn’t been done before,” said Alexis Lovette, who co-owns the gym with her husband, Lee. “Usually they just come and they spectate and do some stuff with the wrestlers, but they’ve never been on an actual team, so we created a team — Team Ten 4 Kids sponsored us.”
But how, exactly, does one prepare to pull a full-sized commercial airplane? The rhetorical answer is you really can’t, but there are ways to at least train for such a strenuous pull, Lee said.
“I mean, I’ve never pulled a 60-ton plane before, and even though we are a functional-fitness gym I don’t have anything really around my gym,” said Lee with a laugh. “A couple of weeks ago we started pulling cars — one of my coaches has a Jeep, so I had them out pulling with the Jeep.
“I’ve got a 12,000-pound Dually — so we upgraded to that the next week after — but that was pretty much the heaviest we could take it,” he said. “But one thing we were able to work on was cohesion in the team, everyone pulling at the same time and everyone positioning themselves.”
Sure, having strength and power is one thing, but it was the teamwork aspect that was preached during those Thursday night training sessions.
The only way to move that airplane was to do it is a single unit, and that wasn’t lost on the gym’s Special Olympians.
“You have to be careful — that’s why you have a team, because I don’t think anybody could pull that by themselves,” Feiner said. “Imagine if you actually tried to pull that by yourself, you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.”
For Lee, Alexis and the other coaches at CrossFit Winter Garden, the plane pull was also a chance to help get their Special Olympics powerlifters into the right frame of mind as the busy season approaches.
The powerlifting team just swept through the area games — winning every division — and are preparing for states at the end of November.
“It makes me happy, because they train year-round and they bust their butts,” Lee said. “It gets their minds confident that they are powerful and strong. It’s cool, because now they are going to finish today on a high going into training for states.”
The Author: Troy Herring
Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16).