Tug-of-war is not just a sport of muscle and strength.
Kristi Rockley, 44, a pioneer for women's tug-of-war in Ontario, said it also involves technique.
"It's not all about size because you have eight people working as one," said Rockley from her ranch south of Straffordville on Jackson Line. "Everyone has to be moving and stepping as one. It's all technique and it's amazing to watch when you get two really good teams going. You give, you take, and your coach is alongside so you know when 'now is the time to make the hit.' Once you start going, usually it's pretty hard to stop that momentum."
Rockley, who was inducted into the Canadian Tug-of-War Hall of Fame in Embro on July 1st, knows a thing or two about the sport. After growing up in Tillsonburg, she started a career in policing with the Waterloo Regional Police. She was an instructor in the training branch in the mid-90s when she was invited to join the department's tug-of-war team – the Harness Bulls – for a charity bus pull against Kitchener firefighters and other teams. It was a men's team, but they needed a female for the bus pull.
"I really enjoyed training with the team for the bus pull and was immediately hooked on the sport of tug-of-war," said Rockley. "I just loved it, so after the bus pull I spoke to the team and asked if they'd be willing to have me stay on."
Prior to the charity event, she had no experience in the sport. Her athletic background was competitive rowing, which she developed on Lake Lisgar from the age of 14.
"I've still got my ergometer," she smiled. "I still do my land version of it."
Her Waterloo teammates felt she had earned a spot 'on the rope' – but at the time, the Canadian Tug-of-War Association was a men's league.
"My Waterloo team members supported me all the way... and I had the privilege of being the first woman to ever compete in the Canadian Tug-of-War Association Men's League. We raised more than a few eyebrows and got a lot of double-take looks at our first competitions.
"People would say, 'you've got a girl on the rope, what's going on here?'" she laughed. "We certainly got a lot of funny looks."
The rule book was checked and it was agreed she should be allowed to pull with the men. The Harness Bulls competed in all the Ontario league events.
She also participated in the 1995 Irish Fest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in 1996 she travelled to Slagharen, Netherlands, to compete in the Tug-of-War World Championships.
"That was a lot of fun. I pulled with a US women's team. Because they had men's and women's categories, I wasn't able to pull with the Canadian men's team I went over with."
Her 'non-traditional' role on the men's tug-of-war team sparked interest in other women to get involved in the sport. By the end of the 1990s a women's league had been created with as many as six teams competing at most league events.
"They sort of said, 'hey, why not?'"
After 10 years with Waterloo department, she transferred to York Regional Police where she worked eight-plus years.
"I am grateful for the support from my former Waterloo team members and all the Canadian Tug-of-War League teams, coaches and officials who accepted me on the rope from the start. This allowed me years of competition, camaraderie and lots of fun in a fantastic sport. I love the sport of tug-of-war and thoroughly enjoyed my years on the rope."
Rockley said it was a true surprise and honour to be nominated for the Canadian Tug-of-War Hall of Fame for having made a lasting, positive impact on the sport in Ontario.
"Over my 20-year policing career, I enjoyed breaking old ways and boundaries, and digging into new ground on a number of fronts in addition to tug-of-war," she said, citing examples such as her competitive rowing career, being the first female Use of Force instructor in the York Regional Police Training and Education Unit and the development of her current business, Horse-drawn Insights at Spirit's Whisper Ranch in Straffordville.
"I left policing after my first horse grabbed me by the heart and said it was time to take being of service in a new and different direction. My herd of eight majestic horses and I invite people to initiate positive change in their lives by exploring Horse Guided Learning. This transformative experience offers individuals, families and businesses the opportunity to have a horse as their teacher/guide/partner/coach who can help them see and experience the world in a different way. Horses are natural coaches as they provide instant feedback to us without judgment or attachment. What is discovered and experienced in relationship with a horse partner is immediately transferable into a daily life without them. Sessions are customized to fit each individual's or group's goals and desired outcomes. Horses help us walk our truth every day as we live in the moment and find peace, happiness and purpose in our lives."