An athletic boot-camp is, perhaps, the most appropriate way to describe a Pull practice. I found myself questioning, after I continued coming back each day, whether or not I was turning into a sadist. Although I would enjoy detailing the specifics of a Pull practice, I am bound as a member of Odd Year to keep the specifics of those hours long practices secret. Suffice to say that they were hard, harder than my high school cross country practices and even my wrestling ones, too. It was almost comical the number of prospective pullers that came for a day or maybe two of practice before throwing in the towel. That isn’t to say, however, that they were all one long Dantesque level of punishment. The difficulty of the practice was always sweetened by the camaraderie of the team, and there was something extremely satisfying and rewarding finishing each practice knowing I shared a tough experience with everyone else on the team that day. Not only that, the practices were made palatable because my coaches and my peers knew that the practices were themselves simply stepping stones, giving us the footing and path to Pull day itself. I mentally encouraged myself each time sweat poured down from my forehead, secure in the knowledge that I and my team are becoming truly competitive. That competitiveness comes to a head on Pull day itself, of course. There I saw myself as a cog in a machine set against another machine, each well-oiled entity attempting to push itself to its maximum potential and bring the other into submission. Yet the competition itself is not all that Pull is. I would like to share with you a way of looking at the Pull from a Biblical perspective.
Consider the central truth of Christianity that creation and mankind’s greatest purpose is to glorify God. It is sweeping in implication, for it implies that all we do should be done in such a way as to bring God glory, and everything that does not bring him glory we should not do. The Pull, I argue, can be done in such a way as to bring God glory.
The puller is able to glorify God first in his humility. It is awfully easy to become proud sporting maroon and gold or red. The inclination to think that I and the team are somehow better than non-pullers is far too easy. The challenge of humility becomes even more of a difficulty for the victors, who are granted bragging rights until the next Pull day. Biblically, however, Christians are called to a life of humility and submission to God. As a puller, this looks like humbly acknowledging that all we have and all we can do is by God’s grace. This hit home to me one practice where I had been on the rope for some time. My vest had shifted up my body in such a way so that my ribs were pressing harshly against the thick twine, a position that was causing me to moan with my eyes closed in pain. At that moment I was vulnerable, ashamed and in huge amounts of pain. All of that posturing, all that self-love, all of that pride in my life found itself silenced in that moment—but I found myself in camaraderie with the Jesus who endured whips and the cross.
Humility is central, but it should not suggest that pullers should give less than their best. Indeed, the second way the Pull can honor God is by pullers giving their absolute all. Both Even and Odd year will testify that they demand 110 percent from their pullers on every day of practice and especially on the event itself. God did not create the sky to be less of a sky than it should, or a tree to be less of a tree than it should. These things were created to be as beautiful and awesome as they are. Similarly, humans are meant to be as great as they can be to give the glory he deserves as Creator. This means, as a puller, every heave I heave should be as great as it can, and every strain I strain should be the best that it can be. It means when I desperately desire to get off the rope due to fatigue I resist. Like Jesus on the path to Golgotha pullers struggle under a great burden but, like Him, we all try to keep trudging even when we fall.
The Pull isn’t a vain tradition or silly Hope College “thing.” It isn’t just a rivalry. It is more than that. The Pull builds relationships and memories. It unites its participants and shows them the meaning of struggle. It breaks down and builds up. Most importantly, it can glorify God. Every heave, every shout, every drop of sweat can tell our Creator “Thank you, I am trying my best, and worship you even in this act! By your grace I do this.”