If you’re familiar with the Tough Mudder, and you’re familiar with wives, then you have an idea what the sport of wife carrying entails.
As you’d expect from the name, competitors carry their wives on their backs in a series of heats. The ultimate winner is rewarded with (what else?) half his wife’s weight in beer.
Wife carrying isn’t some recent innovation in this era of color runs and Spartan races, however. Known as Eukonakanto in Finnish, the sport is firmly rooted in (you guessed it) Finland.
And like all great sports, wife-carrying has a heckuva origin story. A mythical, perhaps actual, robber named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen lived in the woods of Finland in the late 1800s. He and his band of not-so-merry men robbed nearby villages, often making off with the local women by (again, you guessed it) carrying them over their shoulders.
Writer Jo Piazza competed in (was carried in) a wife-carrying competition in the course of writing How to be Married. Here’s what she said, per The Cut.
“Wife carrying is a Finnish sport, and they’re deadly serious about it. It’s like Tough Mudder, but while carrying a woman. You’re literally carrying your wife through an obstacle course over logs, over hurdles, through mud pits, up a ski slope, up a mountain.”
“The way you carry your wife is not what you’re thinking. All of you are thinking piggyback, but that is not how you do this. It is not the piggyback carry. It is not the fireman’s carry. It is the “Estonian method,” where my thighs are on his shoulders and my head is hanging down. My head is right in his grundle, and his elbows are hooked around my knees.”
It was 25 years ago in Finland that the first modern-day wife carrying competition unfolded. Originally, only Fins were eligible to participate, but the competition began welcoming outsiders in 1995. The event is still held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland. It’s known as the World Championship. A North American Championship variant was started in 1999 at Sunday River Resort in Maine.
Couples earn spots in the North American Championship by winning any sanctioned state, provincial, or regional wife-carrying competition. The remaining spots are secured via registration. Interestingly, the North American competition, the winner gets the wife’s full weight in beer plus five times her weight in cash.
Here’s a quick look at the North American Championship’s rules and regulations, which differ slightly from the World competition’s.
North American Rules & Regulations
1) Teammates are not required to be legally married.
2) Helmets are not required for the carried competitor. (The Worlds requires a helmet.)
3) The only special equipment allowed to be worn by the carrier is a belt, which is optional.
4) There is no minimum weight limit for the female competitor. (The Worlds set a weight limit of 49 kilograms / 108 pounds, and weight belts are used to make up any difference in weight.)
The competition is contested two couples at a time in the preliminary heats. The two fastest teams make it to the final heat. If a wife is dropped, that’s a five-second penalty. While the Estonian Carry is the most popular method, there is no restriction on how a wife can be carried.
The course itself is 254 meters/278 yards long. Generally, it features uneven ground and elevation changes. Interestingly, the track for the World Championship is totally flat. Each course includes one water obstacle and two dry obstacles, but there’s a great deal of variety in what those look like.
A final word about the nature of “wifedom” in this wife carrying competition. In the United States at least, the definition expands well beyond the traditional male husband-female wife arrangement.
As Jo Piazza says: “The race has gotten more inclusive. Your wife can also be your husband. Your wife can be your wife. It can be two wives. It can be two husbands. Very inclusive to couples of all kinds.”
While wife carrying is great and all, imagine the competition if the wife then had to turn around and carry the husband back through the course. Rather than wanting the male competitor to be brawny and the female to be as light as possible, you’d like a more balanced outfit. Another whole layer of intrigue!