NEWRY — Redemption.
Four years of second- and third-place finishes in the North American Wife Carrying Championship were wiped away Saturday when Jesse Wall and Christina Arsenault won first place at Sunday River Ski Resort.
“Thank God! Finally!” Wall yelled after getting up off the ground.
Carrying Arsenault upside down on his back, her legs locked around his neck and her arms around his waist, Wall yelled exuberantly as he sprinted across the finish line. He completed the 278-yard course with a winning time of 1 minute, 4.10 seconds.
He let Arsenault down gently, tipped his head back, clenched his muscles and roared before falling to the ground on his back.
Second-place finishers Chris Poirier and Kristin Black of Waterville completed the course in 1 minute, 19.03 seconds. Poirier and Black finished second last year, as well.
“It feels so good,” Wall said of winning the event. “It feels amazing. I’ve been sick and injured the last two and a half months and that’s been in my head and I just wanted to win one time,” he said. “You know, we’ve been on the podium for four years in a row and I just can’t quite crack it, so I’m really glad it finally happened.”
Putting his arm around Arsenault, Wall said, “I’m really proud of her.”
Wall and Arsenault wore bib No. 9, which meant they raced soon after the event started at 11 a.m. and had time to recover while hoping none of the other 49 teams bested their time.
Wall and Poirier took first and second place respectively in the qualifying run, finishing just two-tenths of a second apart.
Poirier and Black were No. 46 (of 49 teams) and won second place near the end of the qualifying run. They were given 10 minutes to recuperate before the grueling head-to-head championship run. Five years ago, Wall and Arsenault, who were bib No. 48, were in that same position.
“I feel bad for him, but no mercy,” Wall said of Poirier. Then he hugged Arsenault, who wore a Mohawk of ponytails.
Wall and Arsenault have been competing since 2010, when she said she was “wicked small” and Wall was “wicked strong.” They hoped then to “make some waves in the wife-carrying world,” but had only managed two second-place finishes and two third-place finishes.
“Every year, it seems like there’s been a roadblock for us,” Wall said. “We lost to the World Champion, Taisto Miettinen, shoulder to shoulder at the log hurdle in 2012.”
Wall skis at Sunday River often and said he’s getting married at the resort next June.
“A lot of life centers around Sunday River for us and we’re so happy to win, finally,” he said.
Because Arsenault weighed in at just over 96 pounds, she and Wall won her weight in Shock Top beer and Johnny Appleseed cider, plus $482.50, which is five times her weight in cash.
Forty-nine “couples” from as far away as Virginia, Colorado and Idaho competed in 25 timed, head-to-head heats, trying to qualify for the final race-off between the first- and second-place finishers.
Resort spokeswoman Sarah Devlin said this year’s times weren’t quite as fast as times in years past because the course was laid out slightly differently. It had a longer, steeper uphill section with a second log hurdle instead of a sand trap.
Wall noticed it right away.
“I was really surprised when I showed up and saw the second log and the overall grade became much steeper,” he said. “It was incredibly difficult and I was glad to be (bib) No. 9 and have time to recover.”
As the new North American Wife Carrying champions, Wall and Arsenault also qualified to compete in the 20th Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajärvi, Finland, in July 2015.
Resort marketing director Caroline Ochtera said the event and the resort’s Fall Festival Weekend competitions and activities attracted a crowd of thousands.
“The North American Wife Carrying Championship went amazing today,” she said. “I think it’s the biggest crowd that we have had yet in the 15 years that we have run this. And the two that got first and second, they were so close in times for the qualifying round, it made for an amazing final,” she said.