When Bruce and Sheri Foster said “I do” eight years ago, they probably never thought they would one day decide to do something as wild and crazy as the competition they entered two weekends ago.
The Lincoln couple was one of 47 that participated in the Sunday River Ski Resort’s 12th annual North American Wife Carrying Championships in Newry, Maine. They toured the challenging 283-yard obstacle course in a 1:27.37 time that placed them 27th and just eight seconds shy of a top-20 finish.
The Fosters, who had never taken part in an event like this and practiced just once for it -- in the Sunday River parking lot less than an half hour before the start of the event -- were more than pleased with their middle-of-the-pack finish and thoroughly enjoyed their unforgettable, out-of-the-ordinary experience.
“It was a blast,” said Bruce, who this past summer, tied for second place with his brother, Jeff, at the 2011 Spartan Death Race, a 45-hour ultra-endurance race in Pittsfield, Vt. “We learned a lot of different hints here and there that will definitely help us. I think we can probably cut around 20-30 seconds off our time and finish in around a minute next year, even if I practice a little bit.”
“We wanted to do this last year, but we were unable to get into it because we missed the registration,” admitted Sheri. “They only take 50 couples and you have to register right away. But we got in this year and it was a lot of fun.”
Only three couples managed to crack the magical minute mark, and the first-place finishers, Rocco Andreozzi and Kim Wasko, repeated as champions by finishing in 49.64 seconds and cutting 12.27 ticks off their 2010 time.
“The people who won it were amazing,” said Bruce. “That’s all they do, all year long, is wife carrying. Seriously, the guy and his wife would enter 5K races through the mountains, and whenever it was downhill or flat, he would carry his wife.”
The winning team received a check for five times her weight in cash (the 124-pound Wasko earned $620) and her weight in Shock Top beer (nine cases), and also qualified for the World Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajärvi, Finland in July of next year.
Sonkajärvi is the home of this obscure competition, which was invented over a century ago and held its first organized tournament in the summer of 1992 as an idea to liven up a village fair.
Since then, the sport has picked up steam and is governed by the International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee, which among its bylaws, notes that the male and female on a team do not have to be married, and the female must be over the age of 17 and weigh at least 49 kilograms (107.8 pounds).
Most spectators would assume that the bigger the husband and the lighter the wife, the better chance they have of succeeding. And while the Fosters have an advantage in this category -- Bruce is 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, more than 70 pounds heavier than the 5-foot-7 Sheri -- it actually doesn’t mean a lot.
“I don’t think it makes much of a difference,” Bruce noted. “They were some really tiny guys there that were doing really well. There were couples that you would see and you’d say, ‘They’re not going to go very fast because the wife looks like she’s the same weight as her husband or more,’ but they were flying around the course.
“The guys that did well were the ones with long legs they took big strides and were able to get over the hurdle and through the water with no problem.”
The course must also be at least 253.5 meters (277.2 yards) long and contain two dry obstacles and a meter-deep water obstacle, and the one Sunday River had to offer more than met these demands.
Couples went off in waves of two on the course. As soon as the starter’s gun went off, they raced on an uphill run that curved to the right and brought them to a three-foot log hurdle that they had to scale.
Once over the log, the couples sprinted around the corner, down a hill, and toward a large trench filled with muddy water called the Widow Maker, because a few husbands fell into the gunk and dumped their wives into it.
After the couples got out of the water, they then had to race over a three-foot high sand pile before crossing the finish line.
The Fosters made it through the course in one piece, with no bumps, bruises, or Bruce dropping Sheri, and along the way, they picked up a valuable tip or two that they could store away for a future competition.
“I guess a lot of the veterans of the race wear cleats because the course goes mostly through mud,” said Bruce. “So as you’re going downhill, you have to go really slow, because the people without cleats were falling left and right.
One guy face-planted and hit the ground pretty hard. He got hurt pretty badly, and his wife had to drag him across the finish line.
“And when you’re going through the water, it helps to go along the side of it and not through the middle. You can put your hand on the side of the water pit and that helps get your through the water quickly.”
The Fosters did do some homework on the competition before heading up to Maine, and one thing they studied was the different ways a husband can carry his wife.
There’s the traditional piggyback style, the over-the-shoulder fireman's carry, or the commonly-used Estonian-style, where a wife hangs upside-down with her legs locked around her husband’s shoulders and her arms wrapped around his waist.
The Fosters chose option No. 3, and for good reasons.
“No one has ever won carrying their wife any other way,” Bruce added. “We just went right to the (Estonian-style) way, and believe it or not, it’s the most comfortable. The other two ways, you have to use your hands to hold her, but this way, I’m free to use my hands and she’s doing all the holding. I’m free to grab a hurdle and get right over it and pump my arms like you would normally do for running.”
Being upside down and on the move for nearly a minute-and-a-half was a bit nervewracking at first for Sheri. Was she going to fall on her head? Was she going to strike anything with it? Was the blood going to rush to her head?
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Sheri. “When I flipped back up, I was a little dizzy for a minute, but I was only upside-down for a minute-and-a-half. Luckily, we were one of the last teams to go, so we got to see everyone and the way they did it. Once I saw a lot of them, I felt OK.”
Sheri also felt a lot better after Bruce cleared the log hurdle and turned over on top of it in a way that cleared her head by more than a foot, but her biggest fear came in the water pit.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” she remarked. “I definitely did not want to go underwater, so I put my hands on his hips, straightened my arms, and pushed myself up a little bit so my head wasn’t straight down and I was way above it.
“But I was definitely nervous. Even my six-year-old daughter, Cassidy, was crying the whole time because she didn’t want me to go underwater, but she was OK afterwards.”
Once the race was over and the nerves and anxiety went away, the family was able to enjoy the rest of their Columbus Day weekend vacation in Maine.
And set its sights on a return trip to next year’s tournament.
“The whole family had a great time,” said Bruce. “The kids took a bunch of pictures and they were cracking up over everything. It was a great weekend and it was pretty fun, and we definitely plan on going back in next year.”