By Wendy Sweeter,
Raya Johnson poses with her trophies from the local, state and national pedal pull contests. Photo: Wendy Sweeter
Lennox Elementary fourth-grader Raya Johnson fell in love with tractor pedal pulls last year at the Fourth of July celebration.
Last year as an 8 year old, Johnson won the Lennox pedal pull for her age division. Since they were out of town during this year’s Fourth of July festivities, Johnson pulled at the contest in Salem. At that unique pull, she placed first in a co-ed pull in the 9-year-old division.
“I like just getting to go there and having fun, getting a little exercise in and it’s just really exciting. It’s a thrill,” Johnson said.
Over Labor Day, she competed in the state 9-year-old girls division in Mitchell where she placed third. Since the top four finishers at the state competition qualify for nationals, she signed up to pull in the national contest which was Sept. 24 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.
As it turned out, Johnson competed against 22 other girls and beat out all of her South Dakota competition to end up in fourth place in the nation behind two Nebraska girls and one from Kansas City.
“It was packed. I couldn’t believe how many people were there,” said Johnson’s dad, Clint.
Put on by the National Pedal Pullers Association, at least 17 states were represented with some as far away as Oregon. Children ages 4-17 years old are eligible to compete.
A full pull is 40 feet and each age division has their own certain amount of weight to pull on the sled. Johnson pulled 37.5 feet. The three contestants ahead of her all had full pulls and had to do a pull off. Everyone only gets one shot to try for a full pull.
“If your foot slips off, you’re done. Once you stop, you stop,” Clint said.
When Johnson pulls, she thinks about riding a bike.
“You just imagine you’re riding a bike. You look ahead. I was looking at my dad,” Raya said. “You get to have one cheerer to make you want to get to them.”
Her cheerer was her dad. She stays so focused when she’s pulling that she doesn’t notice that her legs hurt until she gets off the tractor.
“When you’re pedaling, you don’t think about anything. It’s like your mind clears immediately. When I came off then my legs were sore,” she said.
At the local pedal pulls, friends and family can be on the floor cheering next to the track. At the state and national competitions, it is the puller and their one person to cheer for them on the floor.
“My year of doing pedal pull all my friends were there and they were cheering me on. There’s so much of a difference from a small town (pull) to a national,” she said.