Tugging on tradition: Passing on the passion of The Pull

“Pull is nothing if not tradition.” That’s what Ryan VanderLaan of the class of 2019 had to tell me when we chatted after his year’s recent Pull victory. As a tradition traced back to 1898 by news from Hope college editor Greg Olgers, The Pull has been around since before Hope college was officially a college. This tradition, passed down through generations, was passed down to VanderLaan before even arriving at Hope. “I had an older brother who came here, and I saw the pull when he did it when I was in middle school. That was my first encounter with it.

When I ended up coming to Hope I decided I absolutely wanted to do it and loved it since trying freshman year. Did it both years. It was born from family coming to Hope” VanderLaan did The Pull both his freshman and sophomore year, seeing success on his sophomore attempt. After a junior hiatus VanderLaan joined his Pull team again this year, but his role was a bit different as he would go on to explain: “This was my first and last year coaching. One of the other coaches left and the other coaches asked me to fill his position. The thing about pulling is that you’re very focused on the physical aspect of it: training your body and being physically ready for the event. When you’re coaching you’re much more worried about the logistics of things and making sure that the team as a whole is ready and not focusing on yourself so much.

You get a much bigger picture of the entire event instead of just trying to prepare yourself and the people around you.” This unity was what VanderLaan highlighted about his experience this year coaching the younger pullers. “[As a puller] you get to participate in coming together and becoming one cohesive unit, but as a coach you get to see these people coming together from being forty people who don’t know each other to a family. A lot of people talk about the family aspect of it. When people go through that shared hardtack and that shared trauma, it emotionally bonds everybody. When you’re a coach you participate in it a little bit, but mostly you’re facilitating that bonding” Despite not being able to participate as intensely VanderLaan seemed honored by his role on The Pull team. “It’s really fulfilling. Watching it gives you a lot of closure, a lot of catharsis. To do it yourself and then pass it down and know you’re passing it into good hands.

Watching the passion in these students grow, and watching the same things you did, it gives a lot of closure and everything kind of comes full circle then. That’s kind of the role of the coach in general. Every day they come out fired up and just hammer on all the time that you’re not there for yourself. You’re there to show other people what you can do; to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of everybody. To sacrifice yourself for everybody else there who’s giving their time and effort. The people that end up typically becoming coaches are people who are collective with that sentiment that being able to sacrifice yourself for the love of other people. Being able to selflessly put everybody else before yourself.” Despite being his “last year being involved with Pull,” VanderLaan was confident passing the tradition into the “fresh hands” of the sophomores, leaving them with a final piece of advice: “I think more than anything the best feeling is to hold onto the three weeks that you had and the day itself, because at the end of the day what you’re going to remember is the people and what you put in for three weeks, not what happened on one day.

Even when I was a freshman and we lost it’s still a really great feeling to have done something for three weeks with that many people.” Because when it comes to it, VanderLaan describes the spirit of the Pull as the people, the sacrifice and the effort. Not the competition. “Some alum take it really seriously, but as coaches we try to emphasize that those forty people there are the only people who know what you’ve been through.” Nobody truly can experience The Pull like those who have been behind the rope, whether they be coaches bringing the team together, moraler’s inspiring the team forward, or the pullers themselves sacrificing everything for betterment. Perhaps that’s why so many have tried. From The Guinness Book of World Records, to Sports Illustrated, to Australian television. Despite this, the sacrifice of pullers will continue to inspire the students and alumni of Hope college for many years to come. Hoo-Rah!

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