Forget carrying your bride over the threshold. Consider, instead, hauling her over a 278-yard obstacle course and you’ve got not just a true test of connubial commitment but also the essence of the North American Wife Carrying Championship, taking place at the Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, on Oct. 11.
Considering the winning couple takes home the wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash, the event may also represent the one time it’s OK to suggest the love of your life put on a few extra pounds.
Now in its 15th year, the event pits couples against each other on a hillside obstacle course featuring log hurdles, sand traps and a water hazard known as the "widow maker." Contestants can carry their partners any way they want — piggyback, chicken fight, fireman’s carry — but most opt for the so-called Estonian carry, which looks like a cross between an upside-down piggyback ride and a move by Duane “The Rock” Johnson.
“It’s a surprisingly competitive event,” said Nick Lambert, the resort’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Some enter as part of their honeymoon or a proposal but others train for months.”
The latter, in fact, may actually be honoring the event’s roots, which legend says date back to 19th-century Finland, where Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, aka “Ronkainen the Robber” would lead his henchmen on raids of neighboring towns. The raiders trained by carrying heavy sacks, then actually hauled off prospective brides. The raids were recast as races with the debut of the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajarvi, Finland, in 1992.
Today, the event has evolved to include prizes for the fastest time and awards for greatest combined weight and greatest combined age. In Maine, during Sunday River’s Fall Festival, it all culminates when the winning wife is placed on one end of a seesaw and cases of beer are stacked at the other until they reach equilibrium.
“It’s the perfect event for Maine,” said Jesse Wall, a five-time competitor who cites the state’s propensity for attracting “eccentric types.” For Wall, who works as a strength and conditioning coach, the event is more than a physical test. Being of Finnish descent, he also sees it as an expression of “sisu,” which translates roughly as determination, resilience and downright stubbornness.
For other contestants, it’s more about having fun, trying something different and crossing the finish line as a team. At which point, every guy who enters is clearly entitled to say, without incrimination, “Honey, get off my back.”