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DULLES PLANE PULL

Teams Test Their Strength at Annual Dulles Plane Pull

Mary Jacobson, 55, a cancer survivor, tries to pull a 180,000-pound plane at the annual Dulles Plane Pull at Dulles International Airport. Dulles Airport police Officer Joe Carroll keeps the rope straight so she doesn't trip.
Mary Jacobson, 55, a cancer survivor, tries to pull a 180,000-pound plane at the annual Dulles Plane Pull at Dulles International Airport. Dulles Airport police Officer Joe Carroll keeps the rope straight so she doesn't trip. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mary Jacobson, 55, was confident that she could pull a 180,000-pound cargo plane down the tarmac at Dulles International Airport by herself.

So even as 58 teams (of about 25 people each) prepared to see how fast they could pull the behemoth a dozen feet, Jacobson, of Stanley, Va., warmed up solo.

She's 5'4", weighs 153 pounds and competes in professional strength competitions. Ten thousand people showed up to watch the event, which started in 1992 as a way to raise money for the Virginia Special Olympics.

"Don't let the size fool anybody," she said before Saturday's event. "When you've got a heart of gold, you generate more strength than you would believe."

After recovering from a rare form of cancer in the late 1990s, the single mother became an exercise junkie. At a bench competition, Jacobson said, she "got hooked." In July 2008, she said, she pulled a 500,000-pound steam engine down railroad tracks by herself. So by comparison, she said, tugging an Airbus A310 "should be a whiz."

Teams from the Coast Guard and the Pentagon got the plane rolling after plenty of heaving and huffing.

Jacobson, meanwhile, ate an apple fritter and two Sno Balls for breakfast. Under her curly blonde hair, she had applied makeup and a coat of red lipstick.

"I'm very girly-girly," she said. "The most important goal is to look cute."

Jacobson gave an interview to a film crew from AARP, the senior advocacy group where she works as a contractor. They are preparing a video about her for their Web site.

Jacobson got impatient as she waited, eating a third pink Sno Ball and then a fourth.

Finally, it was her turn. Two friends helped connect her harness to a clanky silver chain attached to the plane's wheels. About 300 people had gathered around. The master of ceremonies, Bill Pimble, said she could set a world record. A group of five kids in the crowd started chanting "Mary."

Jacobson threw herself forward. The plane didn't budge.

She pushed harder, standing on her tip-toes. Her body was at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Less than a minute later, Pimble ordered the crowd to cheer louder.

Two young men started pulling with her. The plane rocked slightly. Then, eleven men and a woman jumped over plastic tape that cordoned off the area in front of the plane.

The wheels moved slightly. Jacobson stopped, put her hands on her hips, exhaled deeply and tried again. By then, about 30 people had joined the effort.

Finally, the plane rolled 12 feet. "I didn't have as much Sno Balls as I think I needed," she said. "I'll be back right here next year."


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