Team Aaron Additon, a volunteer for Team Thirsty Turf Irrigation, digs in as the team’s anchor. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)

The back-of-the-envelope math goes something like this: 25 people responsible for pulling 80 tons, or 6,400 pounds per person. 

“It was actually easier than it looks,” said Gary Keniston, part of the team representing Thirsty Turf Irrigation of Gorham. 

Thirsty Turf was one of 20 teams that participated Saturday in the inaugural Plane Pull to benefit the Travis Mills Foundation. The event is just like it sounds. Teams lined up to pull a Boeing 757 – on loan from FedEx – across a 12-foot section of asphalt. The goal was to do it the quickest. Many teams were in the 5-second range. 

The event was held at Northeast Air, the private, business and charter aircraft operator at the Portland International Jetport. Teams represented a host of local businesses, including Idexx, Unum, Pratt & Whitney and others. 

Mark Adams, president of Sebago Technics, said he didn’t have to work hard to field a team. 

“This is such a great event and of course, a great cause,” he said. 

The winning team gets bragging rights, but the event was really about raising money for the Travis Mills Foundation, which was founded in 2013 by a Michigan native and Army staff sergeant who lost all four limbs in an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. 

The foundation supports wounded veterans like him, and two years ago it created the Veteran’s Family Retreat Center in the Belgrade Lakes region to host families of veterans who have lost limbs. The facility in Rome features a handicapped-accessible lodge, lake access, kayaks, bicycles, paddle boards, a movie theater, a children’s play space and other amenities. 

The original fundraising goal for the Plane Pull was $50,000, but Brandy Cain, the foundation’s executive director, said Saturday that they were on target to top $100,000. 

“That’s 100 families right there,” she said. 

The Mills foundation has increased its fundraising each year of its existence. It raised $2.8 million in 2017, according to its most recent tax filing, up from $1.6 million the year before. 

Its biggest fundraiser, a 5K walk/run in Augusta called Miles for Mills, is held on Memorial Day. 

When the opportunity came up last year to partner with Northeast Air on the Plane Pull, Mills said it was an easy decision. 

“It’s an opportunity to get a little more recognition in this part of the state,” he said. 

Mills, who also does motivational speaking all over the country, enjoyed rock star status Saturday. He was stopped often as he mingled with the crowd of hundreds. Some teams lined up to take their picture with him. 

Shawn Moody, the former Republican candidate for governor, sponsored a team from the auto body business that bears his name. He said he’s known Mills for years. He’s also a pilot, although usually of planes much smaller than the Boeing he would help pull. 

“You can’t support a better organization than his,” Moody said. 

Northeast Air had hosted the Plane Pull event for many years with the local chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. 

After a hiatus last year, it was brought back with a new partner. 

Linda Laughlin, special projects manager of Northeast Air and the wife of its president, Henry Laughlin, said the company has so many veterans that the Mills Foundation was a perfect fit. 

“This is way bigger than it was in the past,” she said. “We had to turn away teams.” 

Both Northeast Air and the Mills Foundation are committed to making the Plane Pull an annual event, perhaps even expanding it to more teams. 

Representatives for many of the teams who participated Saturday said they’d happily return next year. 

They would not, however, reveal their pulling strategies. 

“The strategy is to win,” said Max Pelkey of the Pratt & Whitney team. 

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