Now Introducing: The Finnish Sport of Wife-Carrying

Wife carrying. Photo: Courtesy of Jo Piazza

Are you aware of the Finnish sport of wife carrying? It’s like Tough Mudder, but with a woman on your back. So explains Jo Piazza, author of How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage. A travel editor, Piazza spent the first year of her marriage traveling with her husband, studying how relationships work in other countries. But their first stop was stateside, when they traveled to Maine to compete in the North American Wife Carrying Championship.

This is a partial transcript from New York Magazine’s Sex Lives podcast, edited for clarity and length. Call 646-494-3590 to leave a voicemail.

Tell me about the North American Wife Carrying Championship.

When we first got married, we were talking to these marriage therapists who were like, “Do something challenging. Learn to really work together as a team.” And that’s when I discovered the North American Wife Carrying Championship.

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 World Championship is in Finland, but we couldn’t make it there. It was very expensive and I had no travel assignments there. But the qualifier was in Maine, and we could make it to Maine.

The prize is the wife’s weight in beer. I need everyone to Google videos of this, because at the end of the race, they put the wife on a seesaw and put cases of beer on the other side of the seesaw, until they even out.

We went into this race super cocky. We were like, “We can win this. Who the hell participates in a wife-carrying race anyway?” Little did we know, people who participate in wife-carrying races are wildly, wildly into wife-carrying races. We were the least qualified couple there. By far. You race in heats, just two couples going at a time, and we were racing against last year’s wife-carrying champions. All of a sudden, they’re just gone.

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.

We ended up getting the second-slowest time in the North American Wife-Carrying Championship. But he didn’t drop me! A lot of wives got dropped. One part of the race is a freezing mud pit, and a lot of wives ended up in the mud pit. And I didn’t! He carried me. We’d only been married a month at that point, and it felt like this huge accomplishment. We did this thing that was hard and strange. And also the best story.

And also an argument against heterosexuality? This is simultaneously amazing and crazy to me.

Well, 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.

Now Introducing: The Finnish Sport of Wife-Carrying