NEWRY — A Bethel man who had a ligament replaced in his knee last year and the Farmington woman he carried upside down on his back won Saturday's 11th annual North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River Ski Resort.
They beat last year's winners, Dave and Lacey Castro of Lewiston, by less than a second on a much tougher course than competitors ran last year.
In the championship run-off race, Rocco Andreozzi and Kim Wasco won with a time of 1:01.91 (a minute and nearly 2 seconds), besting second-place finishers Jesse Wall of South Paris and Christine Arsenault of Portland by 16.6 seconds, resort spokeswoman Darcy Morse said.
“I knew we could do it, but it was a hard course,” said Andreozzi of the 278-yard course that climbed steeply up a hill before leveling out for a hurdle and descending into a water hazard and a mound of sand prior to the finish line.
Andreozzi said his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) was replaced last year. Despite the surgery, his goal was to win the event.
“It was a challenge to hang on,” said Wasco, whom Andreozzi carried in the traditional Finnish Estonian Carry.
Most of Saturday's 50 competitors used this carry, wherein the “wife” holds her “husband” around his waist and tightens her legs around his neck, freeing his hands.
Wall and Arsenault finished the championship heat with a time of 1:18.77 seconds (one minute and 18.77 seconds), less than 15 minutes after bumping the Castros out of the running for the final round, posting a time of 1:02.66. The Castros finished with a time of 1:04.87 (one minute and 4.87 seconds).
“I thought I ran pretty well, but they were just faster,” said Dave Castro, who sprinted up the starting-gate incline like a rocket and reached the water hazard in 36 seconds, whereas Andreozzi got there six seconds sooner.
Andreozzi and Wasco won five times Wasco's weight of 122.4 pounds in cash ($612) and six cases of Shocktop beer, which was equal to Wasco's weight. She leaned way back on the teeter-totter scale as the beer was placed at the other end until they leveled out.
The couple said they would use the money to go on a camping vacation in Puerto Rico.
“He's a phenomenal star,” Wall said of Andreozzi.
“A big hats off to him for sure," Wall said. "It was tough after two runs, but with the same amount of rest that he had, I think I could have beat him. And of Dave (Castro), when I watched him go, he was like a steed, and then when I ran, I felt slow.”
All runners but Wall, who injured his back two weeks ago, he said, ran in pairs in the initial competition.
Wearing bib No. 30, Andreozzi and Wasco ran their first race in the middle of the pack, whereas Wall and Arsenault wore bib No. 48 and were among the last to compete.
Winning second place that far back in the competition scared Wall, he said, because he knew he would have to compete right away in the final round.
“I was afraid at that point, because I was among the last to run and it would take a lot of juice to do that again,” he said.
That's why he said his strategy in the championship round was "to try not to die.”
As it was, Andreozzi said he had to dig deep to get ahead of Wall after a bad start in the championship heat.
“I had slipped off the gate, so it was hard to make a pass, but once you get out in front it's easier, because only one person can cross the log hurdle at a time,” Andreozzi said.
Running alone in the initial race, Wall and Arsenault quickly attracted the crowd's attention once the crowd realized he would beat the Castros. They went nuts with applause and shouting, bewildering Wall and Arsenault who weren't sure what was happening when they exited the water hazard, the couple said.
“The race was amazing until I hit the water and my legs just cramped up when the cold hit,” Wall said of the 30-degree water, cold from recent rain.
At race time, the temperature was 44 degrees, with gusting winds that quickly chilled exposed flesh.
“The cold water, it seizes your muscles, and I was already tired going into it, but those 20 push-ups I did in one minute (previously) really made a difference,” Wall said.
The competition attracted 50 teams composed of couples from all over the United States and Canada, including Markus Raty and Joline Matka of Toronto, known for their wins at the Canadian Wife Carrying Championship in 2003-2005, Morse said.
The Canadian couple, who raced paired with Lewiston chiropractor Jason Davis and his wife Michelle, held the fastest time of 1:09.50 until the Castros took over the lead with their time of 1:04.87.
The only apparent injury on the revised course came when Jason Davis fell over the hurdle, breaking an ankle. His left leg was splinted by the resort's ski patrol before he was carried off the course and racing resumed.
Prior to the race, the Davises said they wanted to win so they could donate their winnings to a local couple who are trying to adopt a child.
Morse said “well over” 3,000 people of all ages watched the competition from a course that catered to them.
“We decided to redesign the course so that it was more spectator-friendly,” Morse said. “I would say that this was definitely one of our bigger years.”
“The crowds that this event draws have only continued to grow, so after holding the Tough Mountain Challenge this summer, we decided to move the start and finish for wife-carrying into the same area,” she said.
“This year's incline was definitely an added challenge, but the course distance and obstacles stayed the same,” she said.
Despite the course that many racers called “brutal,” the posted times of just over a minute were rather fast.
“Seriously fast!” Morse said. “If you look at last year's winning time and how the Castros did this year, the new course only added about 15 seconds.”
Last year, the Castros beat 46 couples, posting a time of 54.45 seconds.