Newlyweds Attempt to Win the North American Wife-Carrying Championships

Couple from around the world travel to compete in this truly unique sporting event

Jo Piazza—“Just don’t drop your wife,” was the advice that veterans of the North American Wife Carrying championship in Sunday River Maine told us. It was their sage wisdom both for the race and for a happy marriage.

This past Sunday was the annual Wife Carrying race at the all-seasons resort, a qualifier for the World Championships which will take placein Finland next year. Thirty couples traveled from all over the country—Florida, South Carolina, and Colorado—to compete in this bizarre sport.

Having just gotten hitched four weeks ago my brand new husband Nick and I thought we’d give it a shot. We’re in perfectly acceptable shape. We were cocky. We’d practiced a few laps around the park at home in San Francisco and were certain we had this race in the bag.

Little did we know we’d be up against ultra-marathoners and diehard wife carrying champions. There was even a couple of grandparents who were fast as heck. 

By race time our goal was no longer to win…it was merely to finish, avoid injury and stay married.

2015 North American Wife Carrying Results from Sunday River Media Page on Vimeo.

The course is just over 250 yards and the first half takes competitors directly up the ski slope and over two log hurdles. There’s a hairpin turn, and it’s all downhill from there, through an icy mud pit (temperature about 28 degrees) and over a sand mound. Then you cross the finish line. Couples race two at a time with a a final race between the couples with the fastest times to determine the winner. Over the years the course has gotten much more challenging.

“This year there is an extra log. It’s not getting any easier that’s for sure,” said Tom Devine, who has been coming up to Maine from Boston with his wife Jamie for the past eight years. This year he was wearing a shirt that said, “I’m carrying two.” Jamie wore a shirt that said, “I’m carrying one.” She was two and a half months pregnant.

“The doctor said it was fine as long as he didn’t drop me,” she said.

Tom and Jamie Devine had uniforms. Nick Aster and I did not. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

The prize? Besides bragging rights and the best cocktail party story of all time…..

Your wife’s weight in beer. Seriously. 

Wife-carrying is a sport that originated in Finland in 1991. The concept dates back to a 19th Century legend about a man named Ronkainen the Robber, the mastermind of a band of criminals. As a way of selecting the men who could be in his thieving gang, Ronkainen made them race through an obstacle course carrying a woman on their backs. 

Related: A Crazy New Kind of Amazing Race

Today qualifying races are held at Sunday River in Maine, Australia, Sweden and Estonia. 

Estonia also happens to be the birthplace of the preferred method of wife-carrying. A simple piggy-back is frowned upon as it doesn’t free up a man’s hands. Instead, most competitors use the “Estonian Carry,” where a wife is thrown, upside down over her husband’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes.  

Few things bond a couple better than running through the murk and muck with a wife on your back. 

“That couple looks athletic,” my husband, Nick said, sizing up our competition. They did. He was all muscle and she looked like a lithe little gymnast. They did jumping jacks in sync as we approached the start line with them. It was only then that we learned they were last year’s second place finishers. 

“This won’t be humiliating at all,” Nick said. 

“Saddle up!” came the cry from the announcer. From there we were off to the races. 

Related: Nine Marathons Worth Hopping on a Plane For

The couple next to us ended up coming in second with a time of just over a minute. (Photo: Tom Devine)

The very athletic couple sped up the hill. We went with the slow and steady approach. Unable to see anything I had to trust Nick to tell me when we were about to climb over a log. All I could spy were his feet, moving slower and slower. The crowd cheered and shouted encouragement. 

“Smack his backside,” they hollered. Like a jockey egging on a race horse I did. It did not make my husband go faster. 

I just didn’t want to end up in that mud pit. Plenty of contenders before us had dropped their wives headfirst in the muck.

“Don’t drop me, don’t drop me, don’t drop me,” I kept saying. 

Over the final sand challenge. (Photo: Sunday River)

And he didn’t. We crossed the finish line in 2 minutes and 20 seconds, the longest race time of any team that did not fall on the ground. Nick was out of breath, muddy and freezing. I was doing great.

Still, we felt a pretty intense sense of accomplishment. 

“This is the first major hurdle we’ve gotten through as couple,” Nick said. “Also I think I threw out my back.”

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