What it’s like to compete in — and win — the North American Wife Carrying Championship

Jesse Wall and Christine Arsenault of Maine were named champions earlier this month.

Jesse Wall and Christine Arsenault competing in the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River.
Jesse Wall and Christine Arsenault compete in the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River. –Courtesy of Jesse Wall

On Oct. 6, Jesse Wall and Christine Arsenault proved victorious over 34 other teams in the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River in Newry, Maine, their home state.

While Arsenault, 47, of Portland, clung upside-down to his back, Wall, 37, of Oxford, Maine, ran up a hill and cleared a log hurtle, then made the descent into the “widow maker” — a big pit of water. The pair scaled a sand pit and continued downhill to the finish line, completing the entire 278-yard obstacle course in 58 seconds.

The winning duo won Arsenault’s weight in beer (12 cases of Goose Island Oktoberfest), five times her weight in cash ($636), and free entry into the world championships taking place in Finland in July. (The wife-carrying competition originated in Finland in 1992.)

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“It really is kind of a unique way to test your strength and endurance,” said Karolyn Castaldo, director of communications for Sunday River, which has hosted the event for the past 19 years. “It’s just as difficult for the woman to hold on as it is for the man to complete the obstacles.”

Wall agreed: “I always try to tell people the ladies are the unsung heroes. They don’t nearly get the credit they deserve.”

Wall said Arsenault has to basically turn herself into a human backpack, remaining calm and keeping a good grip while squeezing every muscle in her body as he races.

“If you are loose at all, you bump up and down,” he said. “Then it’s much harder.”

Castaldo said that more than 1,000 spectators watched this year as teams from around the country competed.

“It’s just one of the more unique events that you’ll find in the country,” she said. “It really does feel like a true sport when you’re watching it. You get excited. There’s the adrenaline of watching your favorite competitors go through the course. You won’t see anything else like it.”

Christine Arsenault and Jesse Wall after winning the North American Wife Carrying Championship this month at Sunday River.

Among those in the cheering section was Wall’s actual wife, Rebecca Brakeley. As it turns out, contrary to the title of the contest, wife-carrying contest competitors don’t actually have to be married.

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Wall and Arsenault are old friends who have competed in the contest together several times since 2010. Wall met Arsenault years ago while working as a fitness specialist at the YMCA in Portland, Maine. Arsenault took some his classes, and the two became fast friends. He said it was her idea to compete in the event. This is their second time coming in first; they won for the first time in 2014.

“My wife has always been really supportive of it,” said Wall, a strength coach.

After winning in 2014, Wall and Arsenault were not able to go to Finland in 2015 for the world championships because Wall broke his ankle that winter while ice climbing. Wall and Arsenault couldn’t compete in the North American competition that year either. Wall recovered just in time to marry Brakeley at Sunday River in June 2015 — he left the ski resort with a wife that year, rather than a wife-carrying title.

Wall said that he and Arsenault did head to Finland in 2016 to compete in the world championships, even though they didn’t participate in the 2015 Sunday River contest.

“We had earned [the North American Wife Carrying Champions title] in 2014, so we could compete under that title,” he said.

They placed sixth in the world championships, he said.

Wall said he doubts they will go to Finland this summer for the championships due to travel costs and the fact that his wife is pregnant with their second child, but he expects to compete again next year.

There’s another reason the duo competes: to raise awareness for mitochondrial disease, a disease in which the mitochondria don’t produce enough energy for the body to function properly. Arsenault’s daughter battles it, Wall said, which is why the name of their team is “Cure Mito.”

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“So we’re always trying to raise money for that or raise awareness,” Wall said.

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