NEWRY — Two longtime friends returned to the 21st annual North American Wife Carrying Championship on Friday to attempt to reclaim their championship title.

Christine Arsenault of Portland and Jesse Wall of Oxford wound up in third place, behind Olivia and Jerome Roehm of team Lovebirds from Newark, Delaware, and Karen May and John Lund of team Hugs, Kisses, and Chicken Stock from Los Angeles, California.

Wall and Arsenault, who made up of team Valhalla If You Hear Me, have competed in eight of the past 10 championships.

“We’ve won twice,” Arsenault said. “We’ve taken second, three times and third place twice.”

The two years they missed were due to the birth of Wall’s son on the day of the event “so we missed that year,” he said Another year, there was a situation with a broken ankle.

“We started racing together before I was married,” said Wall, who held his wedding at the Sunday River resort. “But we’ve always been partners for this. This has been a great little fun thing for us; it’s been a great way of keeping our friendship building and growing.”

Christine’s husband passed away a few days after the first time she and Wall competed in the championship and said she takes a great deal of comfort in participating in the autumn tradition.

“This is a time that could remind them of great sorrow,” Wall said, “but we’ve always used it as something to celebrate life in the face of tragedy.”

Arsenault said she is emotional about many things this year. She has not worked in her profession as a bartender since Bubba’s Sultry Lounge in Portland closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s given me time to do stuff at the house and be a stay-at-home mom for a while,” she said. Her two children are learning from home this year.

“I’m thankful we get to race, when so many people aren’t doing anything at all,” she said. “So I’m happy for this day.”

Arsenault uses the event to promote causes that are near and dear to her. Her oldest daughter has mitochondrial disease, a genetic disorder involves mitochondria in cells that fail to produce enough energy for the body to function properly. Arsenault has always worn a shirt that read “Cure Mito.”

Asked about their strategy for preparing for the event, Arsenault said they don’t.

“No practicing at all. Some years, it’s the only day we see each other,” she said.

Wall is suited for the event as owner of TruStength Athletics fitness center in Norway, and has been training for long-distance events.

“I knew this could be a tough year for us,” he said. “I’ve been doing only really slow, long-distance running. Right away at the apex of the hill, I could feel my power dropping. At the finish, I felt like my legs didn’t have anything left.”

Despite their third-place finish, the two competitors have nothing but goodwill for the champions.

“Hats off to Jerome,” Wall said. “I think he’s a strong favorite to be the first three times North American champion.”

After the event Friday, Wall posted some reflections to his Facebook page. “I didn’t do my best today, but I still did,” he wrote.

Champions

Olivia and Jerome Roehm won their second consecutive championship in a time of 53.85 seconds.

Team Lovebirds competed against 15 other couples. All couples raced in single heats against the clock, rather than head-to-head, and winners were selected by the fastest time for their only run on the race course, rather than pitting the fastest two couples against one another in a final heat.

In addition to the race format modifications that were made to the event this year due to COVID-19, the event was moved from Saturday to Friday, masks were required at all times except when a couple was on the course, and spectating was limited and socially distanced.

Along with bragging rights and entry into the World Wife Carrying Championship in Finland for 2021, the Roehms won Olivia’s weight in beers, plus five times her weight in cash, totaling 144 16-ounce Shipyard Finder New England IPA beers, plus $570.

Karen May and John Lund of team Hugs, Kisses, and Chicken Stock had the second best time of 1.01.75. Lund and May also took home the prize for the combined age over 80 category.

Wall and Arsenault’s time was 1.05.34.

The category of combined weight of over 350 pounds was awarded to team Bottoms Up, Liza and Adam Drew of Harrisville, New Hampshire.

Built to international specifications, the North American Wife Carrying Championship course is 278 yards in length, with two log hurdles, and one water obstacle often referred to as the “Widow Maker.” Choice of hold is up to each couple, most of whom choose the Estonian Carry where the woman’s thighs rest on the man’s shoulders in an upside down piggyback. Helmets are not required but often used.

The North American race format varies slightly from Finland’s World Championship in that there is no minimum weight limit for the wife and the “man and wife” pair must both be 21 years old. There is no requirement for the couple to be married, or for the couple to consist of a man and a woman.

Based on the 19th century Finnish legend, wife-carrying became a sport as a result of men stealing wives from neighboring villages as means to prove their worth and strength to famed henchman, Herkko Ronkainen, also known as Ronkainen the Robber. Men who were able to carry their stolen wives in the wilderness, over stones, stumps, fences and springs, were accepted into Ronkainen’s privileged group of thieves.

The event precedes the theatrical premiere of the new “Couples of Wife Carrying Movie,” a feature-length mockumentary film about Sunday River’s competition. The film, which was shot at the 2017 North American Wife Carrying Championship, debuted at Bethel, Maine’s Gem Theater on Friday evening. There will be another screening Saturday, Oct. 10. “Couples of Wife Carrying” is also available for digital download and streaming.


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