Originating in 1898, the Pull at Hope College is one of the country’s longest standing college traditions. Featured in The Guinness Book of World Records as well as Sports Illustrated, the event has become a staple at Hope for its challenges, intensity and the bond it creates between teammates. Since its inception, the Pull has changed and evolved through the years to grow into the event we know today. This year, Pull history will be made yet again.
2019 marks the year that Claire Butcher (’21) became the first ever female Pull coach. “Being the first female Pull coach is amazing,” Butcher said. “I’m treated just the same as any other Pull coach, which is all I can ask for. It’s very nice to be accepted in that role. I still don’t believe it, but I’m having an amazing time!” This milestone comes 24 years after the first ever female puller, Kerri Law (’99), competed in 1995.
Though the Pull may seem like a tradition of rigid gender roles, moraler Paige Neilson (’22) believes this is a misconception: “It is true that in the past girls were only moralers, but in recent years girls on both sides have broken that stereotype.”
To date, women have participated in the Pull as moralers, pullers, morale coaches and now Pull coaches. Each role comes with different demands; teams are formed and people are placed in order to maximize the chance of a win. Pulling, for example, requires participants with high strength and physical fitness in order to gain the most rope. It is typically male-dominated because men are often physically stronger than women. This does not mean that women are not allowed to pull, but rather that men generally meet the requirements of the position more often than women.
Morale coach Joslyn Harris (’20) recalled her experience moraling for both men and women her freshman and sophomore years. The differences that she noticed between each came from personality and needs. “I know that I had to be there for my puller, like I’m his lifeline. I’m what he needs right now. Sophomore year was the same thing, but my puller was a girl. I was what she needed, and they both needed different things,” said Harris. “I would say the only difference was in their personalities, which is the same for anybody.”
The other minor adjustment that resulted from having a more diverse team is the way the teams are addressed. Senior morale coach Kylie Corcoran talked about her memories of coaches telling pullers to “go get the guys, go get your boys.” Phrases like this have changed now. “That was something just in the language that we use in practice that we had to switch, going from that to just saying ‘pullers’ because obviously they’re not all guys now,” Corcoran said. “Our female pullers and our male pullers pull just the same. We all treat them the same; they all give just as much,” Harris said.
While differences in gender may have significance in other sports, once on the rope, the true challenges of the Pull go beyond the physical. “Pull is about 80% mental,” Butcher said. “I honestly don’t care much about who’s male or female as a puller or moraler. What matters to me is how one can best benefit the team and put all effort into that position.”
Sophomore puller Ryan Baek (’22) agreed. “Mindset is critical,” said Baek. “No matter how strong you are, you won’t make it to the end of the three hours if you’re not mentally where you need to be.” Baek, who also plays intramural and club sports, compared the spirit of the Pull to his other commitments. While he finds the others more recreational, the Pull brings an intensity that Baek appreciates as an outlet. “It really tests you and helps you to reach levels that you didn’t think you could get to in terms of your mindset,” he said.
In order to face the mental challenges of the event, each interviewee stressed the importance of camaraderie among the teams and noted the unparalleled relationships that arise from the shared experience of something as intense as the Pull. The bonds of the team are rooted in necessity; each member must support the other in order to make it through. This value extends from practice to the Pull and beyond.
“The reason why we make it through is because we have each other,” Baek said. “We push each other to go that extra mile and give that extra 10% to fight through the pain and ultimately win at the end of the day together, as a team.”
Butcher also recognized the effect of the support of her Pull family: “The mental strength really comes from the bond of the family, I think, for the pullers and morale to be one, to be there for each other and to never leave anyone behind. You break through walls every day, and you do things you never thought you could do.”
For coaches Harris and Corcoran, keeping the team in mind and focusing on the end goal to stay mentally strong is the strategy that they preach. “I kind of pushed past my own pain and put their pain in front of mine,” Harris said of her experience as a moraler. The two also credit their shared time in the Pull for their friendships with each other and many others. “We all went through this crazy experience together,” Corcoran said.
Keeping in mind this mental toughness that the Pull demands, it is no surprise that some of the biggest takeaways from participating often relate to an increase in self-assurance and the benefits of the community. “Pull is about learning to view challenges not as impossible tasks but as a chance to grow,” Neilson said. Pushing through the mental part to make physical breakthroughs demonstrates the capabilities of the mind, proving the Pull to truly be a mind over matter experience. Others appreciate the friendships that have lasted long after the rope is measured. “Pull is about being a part of a team, finding community, and learning mental and physical strength. It is about having faith in yourself and your team,” Neilson said. Butcher attested to this as well.“It’s an amazing way to meet new people, create amazing bonds with a family and break down limits you never knew you could,” she said.
Though some may find the Pull intimidating, whether because of time or physical and mental requirements, Butcher’s words of advice to anyone interested are to come to practice and test the waters, or pits, rather. She also emphasizes that the Pull is not just for athletes. In her own experience, it is possible to participate at a variety of ability levels. “I couldn’t run two out of the three weeks of practice my freshman and sophomore years due to a knee issue, and I was still able to comfortably pull,” she said.
The time commitment is also less intense than most people believe. Coaches recognize that participants are students first and encourage them to prioritize academics. Students of all majors and extracurricular commitments have joined in the past, from nursing students to track team members.
For those looking for community and mental and physical growth, the Pull is an honorable option. Behind all the chants and tank tops lie a family of teammates, united in tradition and a shared goal. For Claire Butcher, being a part of her team and Pull history has been a humbling opportunity. “I feel very privileged to be chosen as a Pull coach. It’s the highlight of my day to coach with my staff and to watch our family grow.”