NEWRY — In the fall, Sunday River Ski Resort is the epitome of quirkiness with its hugely successful North American Wife Carrying Championship.
This year, they’re also debuting the New England Cornhole Championship and a Kids’ Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest for their homecoming Fall Festival and official winter kickoff weekend, Caroline Ochtera, marketing and events manager at Sunday River Ski Resort, said Wednesday by email.
There are 50 teams registered to compete in the wife-carry event that starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11, at South Ridge. Racers do not have to be married to each other, but they must be a male-female pair and at least 21 years old.
Typically, the man carries the woman on his back through a 278-yard-long obstacle course, comprised of log hurdles, sand traps and the “widow maker” water hazard.
The fastest two teams from the qualifying round then compete against each other in the final heat. The winning couple takes home the “wife’s” weight in beer — and five times her weight in cash.
They also win an entry into the Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland the following summer.
Ochtera said men almost always carry women on their backs.
“In the last 15 years, we only had one team with a ‘male wife’ and a female carrier,” she said. “While they didn’t win, they would have cashed in on a lot of beer.”
Last year’s Sunday River event was won by five-time world champion Taisto Miettinen, and Rita Sairanen, both of Finland. They finished in just over 48 seconds. Ochtera said there are no contestants from Finland this year.
It’s the competitors’ choice how the wife is carried, but most use the “Estonian carry,” in which the female athlete holds the male around the waist and tightens her legs around his neck, freeing his hands.
Greg Goodhue of Sidney said Wednesday afternoon that he and his friend, Wendy Hallenbeck of Waterville and Newry, use the Estonian carry.
Both are competitive runners who have competed in the wife carry for the past six years as a fun reward from their training.
Additionally, both ski at the resort all winter and participate in its events year-round. Hallenbeck also has a home in Newry.
“I haven’t dropped her yet, so that’s why we’re still doing it,” Goodhue said. “It’s a great race in a fun atmosphere.”
Hallenbeck agreed. “I told him he can continue to carry me as long as he didn’t drop me,” she said. “Once he almost dropped me in the widow maker. He sometimes slips going down into it.”
But if he does drop her in the water hazard, that won’t matter now. To compete in a Half Ironman race four years ago, Hallenbeck learned how to swim.
The fact that they’re both runners “is actually a minus,” Goodhue said.
He has a typical thin runner’s build and weighs 160 pounds, she said, while Wendy is very muscular at 119 pounds.
“I weigh 160 and people that win weigh 220 pounds, and the girl weighs 100 pounds or less,” Goodhue said, laughing. “Last year’s winning girl weighed 90 pounds. Wendy keeps telling me to bulk up, and I keep telling her to lose weight.”
They usually finish in the Top 15, but he said they won 10th place one year. In 2012, they won first place and a trophy in the Age 80 and Over Combined Age category.
Both said they have fun with the wife carry, because they train hard for their running competitions, which they take seriously. This year, Goodhue won Sunday River’s Tough Mountain Challenge, a 5-kilometer obstacle course race. But he said that doesn’t even compare to the wife carry.
“That’s a lot longer with a lot more uphill (running), and you’re carrying 120 extra pounds in the wife carry,” he said.
Hallenbeck said the wife carry “is a lot easier for me because I’m just hanging on, but (unlike the Tough Mountain Challenge), it’s over in a minute and 9 seconds.”
They like the Estonian carry, because of the weight distribution.
“You really can’t beat it,” Goodhue said. “She holds onto her legs to keep them from moving and I can use my arms as much as I can.”
Their only strategy since they don’t train for the wife carry is for Hallenbeck “to hold on really tight so she doesn’t move around at all” while he’s running, he said.
“I have a pretty good grip, so we’re like one going through the course, but it is hard for us to get up over the logs,” she said. “I’m very flexible and he’s quite thin, so I can cross my legs and hold my arms around him and hang onto my legs.
“We definitely have fun with it,” Hallenbeck said.