Elliot Storey of Westbrook takes a flying leap into a clear pool of water in the early stages of the Wife Carrying World Championship held July 1 in Finland. Upside down on his back is his wife, Giana Storey, who is about to be submerged. Photo courtesy of Sasha Chipman

Elliot Storey gently placed the mother of his four children on the sand. He had just lugged her through an obstacle course that included a pool and two log hurdles 30 inches high.

Giana Storey was less than pleased.

“I literally gave Elliot the silent treatment after we crossed the finish line,” she said about their recent race at the 2017 Wife Carrying World Championship. “That’s how real couples do it.”

Not until Elliot finished vomiting several minutes later did his wife’s anger dissipate. They missed finishing in the top three by less than a second, in large part because of pre-race advice given by her husband to another competitor.

Elliot and Giana Storey of Westbrook recently placed fourth at the Wife Carrying World Championship in Sonkajarvi, Finland. The field of 46 included competitors from 10 countries. Photo courtesy of Storey family

The Storeys, who live in Westbrook, are accomplished performers in this arcane sport. In October, they won the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River in Newry, thereby gaining automatic entry to the World Championships, which have been held in Sonkajarvi, Finland, since 1992.

Last Saturday, they covered the 253.5-meter course – nearly the length of three football fields – in one minute and 12.95 seconds. That was good enough for fourth place out of 46 couples from 10 countries. The winners were six-time world champions Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen of Finland, who finished in 1:08.65.

It was the runners-up – Mischa Freystaetter and Rie Takano of Florida – who had Giana all riled up. At a practice the night before the competition, Elliot saw how much Freystaetter kept slipping and suggested his footwear was at fault. Freystaetter, whose mother is Finnish, went out and bought the same pair Elliot wears, and Saturday carried Takano across the line in 1:10.94.

“I was fuming,” said Giana, a 36-year-old aerobics instructor/coordinator at The Fitness Factory in Portland who played field hockey at Westbrook High and the University of Southern Maine. “I’m just extremely competitive. They wouldn’t have gotten (second place) unless Elliot helped them.”

‘LET’S DO SUNDAY RIVER’

She was able to laugh about the incident Friday while speaking by phone from San Sebastian in Spain, where the Storeys are in the midst of a long-delayed honeymoon. Theirs was a destination wedding, on a beach in Belize in 2009. They spent much of the past week in France and will wrap up their three-week trip in Italy.

Elliot, 32, was an all-state linebacker and tight end for the Westbrook High football team. He also played basketball and, for one year, baseball. He went on to Fordham University, where he became interested in Strongman competitions, and organized and won the first such event on campus.

Now a project manager for TRC Solutions, he was the impetus behind their first wife-carrying competition, at Sunday River in 2012.

“How did we get into it? I don’t know,” he said. “The Sunday River race has very good coverage.”

“Before we were even married, Elliot used to talk about this wife-carrying race,” Giana said. “Then we were perpetually pregnant. Finally he was like, ‘Let’s do Sunday River.’ ”

Last October, on their fourth attempt in five years, they completed the 278-yard course in 59.18 seconds to win five times her weight in cash ($665) as well as her weight in beer (11 cases of Goose Island Oktoberfest).

Because the Sunday River course is hillier and its lone hurdle is taller, the Storeys said they thought they could go faster in Finland. Of course, that was before Elliot, training in California near a project site, crashed his bicycle while speeding down Mount Diablo. He badly scraped his right leg and left elbow and sprained his right wrist a week before they headed to Finland.

“Normally when we hurdle, he uses a hand,” Giana said. “This time he had to kind of leap over them.”

The other difference in Finland was a water hazard, clear but longer and deeper, as the first obstacle. At Sunday River, a big mud puddle is near the end of the course.

“I think I need to practice with wet shoes,” Elliot said, “because that is a factor.”

‘A HUMAN BACKPACK’

Another factor is the woman’s weight. Despite the title, International Wife Carrying rules stipulate that the couple need not be married, that “the wife to be carried may be your own, or the neighbor’s, or you may have found her further afield; she must, however, be over 17 years of age.”

The wife’s minimum weight also must be 49 kilograms, about 108 pounds, and many of the top “wives” are near the minimum. Giana Storey said most competitors are not married, at least not to each other.

“We’re always the first married couple in the awards,” she said.

At 59 kilos, or a little over 130 pounds, she said her size increases the burden on Elliot, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 242 pounds.

“I’ve actually begged Elliot to take out someone smaller,” she said. “He won’t.”

Giana’s usual weight is about 145. Before a competition, she tries to lose weight through High Intensity Interval training and by dieting. Teaching her aerobics classes also helps. In addition to lifting weights and riding his bike, Elliot runs with a weighted vest that can add up to 140 pounds. Their kids, who range in age from nearly 2 to 8, often accompany them on training runs.

Elliot Storey races through the mud pit while carrying his wife, Giana, to win the North American Wife Carrying Championship in October at Sunday River. The victory put them into the world championship event in Finland. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

As for technique, the Storeys employ what is known as the “Estonian carry.” Giana wraps her legs around Elliot’s neck while upside down on his back, and grabs hold of her knees or hamstrings so his arms can swing freely.

“I make myself into a human backpack so Elliot doesn’t have to touch me,” she said. “I can’t squeeze too tight because I’ll hurt his neck. But I can’t be too loose because a good backpack is not bouncy.”

“You’ll see a lot of guys hold the wife’s legs,” Elliot said. “If we see that, no matter how good an athlete he appears to be, we write him off immediately.”

“You have to be able to hold your own, be a good jockey,” Giana said. “If I speak, something is wrong. It’s all business once we saddle up.”

For their efforts in Finland, the Storeys won some local gifts, including bedsheets, a blanket, a vase and a bandanna. Elliot also won a small statue for being “Strongest Carrier.”

“He has 32-inch thighs,” Giana said. “He just looks so massive.”

RUNNING OF THE BULLS

They gave everything but the statue to a British couple who finished eighth because, Giana said, the Storeys brought only backpacks for their three-week excursion to Europe and theirs already were packed to the brim. Just before leaving the states, the Storeys also heard from producers of “The Amazing Race,” a reality-adventure television series on CBS, asking the couple to apply.

“We had to fill out a 15-page form and submit a video,” Giana said. “If they like us, we’ll do a second interview in (Los Angeles). We have to wait to hear.”

Meantime, relatives are watching the kids. The honeymoon continues. Next stop in Spain is Pamplona, for the Running of the Bulls. Giana is opting out.

“One of us has to survive for our four children,” she said. “He has (reserved) a balcony for me to watch him run not once but twice.”

Elliot still sounded tired from his ordeal in Finland.

“I honestly can barely walk right now,” he said. “But you’ve got to give the bulls something. Otherwise, it won’t be fun for them.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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