Brendan and Nicky Lowney of Groton pose at the starting line of the 18th annual North American Wife Carrying Championships at the Sunday River ski resort
Brendan and Nicky Lowney of Groton pose at the starting line of the 18th annual North American Wife Carrying Championships at the Sunday River ski resort in Maine. They utilize the famed "Estonian Carry." COURTESY PHOTO

When Groton residents Brendan and Nicky Lowney competed in something called the North American Wife Carrying Championships back in 2011, Nicky had two words for her husband: "Never again."

Fast forward six years. Brendan is turning 50 and he really, really, really wanted to return to the Sunday River ski resort in the Maine outpost of Newry to give it another shot. So "never again" became "here we go again."

The couple didn't win this wild and wacky test of endurance, strength and good humor. Didn't even come close. But their time of just over two minutes for the 278-yard course wasn't bad for their age group Saturday.

We know what you're saying now: Wife Carrying Championships? What the heck is that? And why is this story on the "Sports" page.

Well, this was the 18th annual NAWCC event, run over an obstacle course on a ski slope in which a man goes up and down hills, clears log hurdles, sludges through a deep muddy-water pit and struggles up a sandy hill to the finish line. All the while carrying his significant other on his shoulders.

If that isn't a sport, what is?

Some 64 couples from around the world took part and the winners, Jake and Kirsten Barney of Virginia (58.26 seconds), received 12 cases of Goose Island Oktoberfest beer, a cash prize of five times Kirsten's weight ($360), and an entry into the Wife Carrying World Championships in Finland, where this whole thing started back in the 19th century.

The defending champs, from Maine, were less than a second behind.


Advertisement

The origin of the race is based on the legend of the outlaw Herkko "The Robber" Ronkainen, who was said to steal away with wives during village raids a couple hundred years before Finland got serious about women's rights.

Competitors in the modern version (who do not have to be married) can use any method to carry their partner, but the most popular is the "Estonian Carry," in which the wife is draped over the husband's shoulders so she can grip his waist, her legs facing forward and her thighs resting on his shoulders.

The Lowneys, who have lived in Groton since they got married in 2000 and have three children in the Groton-Dunstable school system, competed in the Masters Division, made up of couples with a combined age over 80.

"Embracing the craziness," as Nicky said, they dressed in black-and-white striped prison costumes, including a ball-and-chain, as a nod to The Robber.

The key portion of the race is the muddy-water pit, sometimes called the "Widow Maker," which you really should call up on You Tube. It's hilarious.

"I just had to hang on for dear life," said Nicky. "I was relieved when we made it over the second hurdle. We had practiced it three times and every time he had dropped me on my head."

Added Brendan: "I had some good speed in the first half of the race, but the wheels came off the wagon when we hit the mud pit."

What does the future hold for these two?

Brendan says he'd like to get right back on that horse and try for a better time next year, hoping to keep the wheels on the wagon.

Nicky is considering hanging up the ol' ball-and-chain and retiring from the sport.

Never say never, Nicky.

Dennis Whitton's email is dwhitton@lowellsun.com