On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9, Sunday River Resort, in Newry, Maine, will host its annual Fall Festival. Like so many seasonal celebrations held around this time of year, the happening will include an arts and crafts fair, live music, children’s games and pony and wagon rides.
There will be one part of the festivities, however, that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.
It’s called wife carrying, and it’s as popular as ever.
The 17th Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship (a AAA GEM attraction) starts at 11 a.m. on Oct. 8. The event was founded at Sunday River in 1999, where it’s been held ever since.
Thousands of those on hand for the Fall Festival will gather to watch the competition, which is exactly what you’d expect it to be from the name.
Men carry female teammates across a 278-yard course, as mandated by international wife-carrying specifications. The course is made up of two dry obstacles, which can vary but have included challenges such as a log hurdle, and a water obstacle affectionately known as the “widow maker.” The course includes elevation changes for an additional challenge.
Many teams are husband and wife, but couples don’t have to be married.
Men can carry women in whatever position they like, though many choose to go with the Estonian carry. It’s basically an upside down piggyback where the woman wraps her legs around the back of a man’s neck with her arms wrapped around his torso.
This year’s event is scheduled to feature 75 couples, up from 50 in past years. The expanded field reflects growing interest, according to Darcy Lambert, director of communications for Sunday River Resort.
“You’d be surprised at how many wives we have who sign their husbands up for this event. There is almost always a waitlist,” she said.
Husband and wife Tom and Jaime Devine will compete in their ninth championship next month. The couple hadn’t been dating two months when they learned of the event through a friend. Jaime jokingly mentioned taking part to Tom, who didn’t waste a day gathering all of the registration paperwork needed for the couple to enter.
“It was definitely a good sign,” Jaime said.
The couple’s top showing to date was a ninth place finish, though winning isn’t what draws the Devines to wife carrying. If that were the case, they might have only completed two or three races.
“There is a crowd cheering you on and it’s a really tough challenge. If you’re a competitive person, I think you can do it once or twice, but to keep going back year after year, you have to not care about maybe finishing last,” Jaime said.
Tom typically begins a wife-carrying training regimen in August. It includes hill sprints and running while wearing a weighted vest. Jaime’s prep isn’t quite the same. She tries to diet a bit leading up to the event and then, on the day of, just hang on.
A common theme among competitors interviewed for this story was regular interest in races and fitness beyond the annual wife-carrying championships.
Greg and Wendy Hallenbeck will compete in their seventh wife-carrying event next month. They ski at Sunday River every weekend in the winter, regularly compete in half marathons and half-Ironman triathlons, and have completed obstacle courses such as the 4-mile Tough Mountain Challenge, also at Sunday River.
Annie and Rick Leslie are avid hikers and triathletes. They planned to take part in their third championship next month, but a late-September injury to Rick’s ankle has them looking ahead to 2017.
“I have been attending the Fall Festival at Sunday River ever since I was young and watching the Wife Carrying Championships was my favorite part of the weekend. I was so happy when I met a guy who was willing to carry me through the course,” Annie said.
The roots of wife carrying date back to the 19th century and the Finnish legend of Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, aka Rankainen the Robber. Details of the wife-carrying origin story vary, but the most popular include Rosvo-Rankainen and his thieves absconding with women from pilfered villages, or the gang’s thieves training by carrying heavy sacks on their backs.
The Wife Carrying World Championships have been held in Finland every summer since the early 1990s. Other sanctioned events take place in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Kansas.
The winning couple in next month’s competition will take home the wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash. They’ll also be entered into 2017 world championships, in Finland.