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Inaugural Plane Pull benefits the Special Olympics

SUNDAY, AUG. 26, 2012

They huffed and puffed, heaved and hoed.

The men and women had a mighty task ahead of them: drag a Boeing 727 aircraft 12 feet down the tarmac.

They were participating in the Plane Pull, a benefit for Special Olympics Washington, on Saturday at the Spokane International Airport. The competition, which pitted 11 teams of up to 20 people against each other, gave participants a chance to show off not only their strength and stamina but their compassion for the cause.

“Those athletes overcome challenges every day, and they do it with class,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “So the least we can do is help them out.”

The goal was to move the 138,400-pound plane 12 feet the fastest. Each team got two tries. Knezovich’s team, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Regulators, took first place with a time of 6.59 seconds.

Their strategy? “Pull hard,” Knezovich said.

Fundraising for the Special Olympics is crucial, because the program costs about $640 a year for each athlete and it’s offered at no cost to the athletes or their families. There are about 1,200 Special Olympics athletes in Spokane. Statewide, there are more than 10,000.

“Everyone plays. Everyone participates,” said Jennifer Suniga, development manager of Special Olympics Washington. “That’s what Special Olympics is all about.”

Individuals with intellectual disabilities participate in year-round sport training and athletic competition, receive health screenings, and build leadership and life skills, Suniga said.

Each competitor paid a $30 fee, and each team could raise more than that by collecting pledges. David’s Pizza was also taking donations for pizza and raised several hundred dollars.

This was the event’s inaugural year.

“It’s been a great success,” said Todd Woodard, spokesman for Spokane International Airport. “We know next year is going to be better. We really want to make this an annual bit and get more people engaged.”

The plane, donated by FedEx, comes from a retiring fleet of 727s to be used for training emergency responders and as a live lab for local students working to become airplane mechanics.

“They’re retiring these aircraft out of their fleet,” Woodard said. “They donate them to their community. They want the plane to have a second life. We’re really lucky.”

The goal of the event, which included biplane and F-18 fighter jet flyovers, was to raise at least $6,000 for Special Olympics Washington.

The plan for next year’s event, according to Suniga, is to make it “bigger and better.”

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