NEWRY — For Jamie Ruginski of Buxton, scaling a log hurdle, splashing into a muddy pond and climbing up a sandhill with his wife, Nicole, affixed to his back was a breeze. The killer? A hill.

Jamie, who dashed through the 278-yard obstacle course Saturday during the 20th annual North American Wife Carrying Championship at the Sunday River Festival, said the hardest part was a near-vertical incline at the start of the course.

“My legs are in pain,” said Jamie. “The hill was the hardest part. Coming down was easy, going through the water wasn’t bad … from the hurdle to the turnaround, that was the most painful.”

The couple said the course was an exercise in trust; though she was a bit scared, as two prior teams wiped out due to wet course conditions, Nicole kept the faith that she would not be dropped.

“It was a little disorientating … you can’t see, you’re getting splashed, the blood’s rushing to your head. … I thought, as long as he doesn’t drop me in the mud, I’m good. That’s the goal.”

The Ruginskis, married for two years, did well. They finished the course in 1 minute 10 seconds, a time that propelled them out of the qualifying rounds and into the finals, where they squared up with the fastest teams.

Olivia Rowling and Jerome Roehm of Newark, Delaware, who finished in 55.95 seconds, took home six cases of beer and five times Rowling’s weight in cash, totaling $555. Christine Arsenault and Jesse Wall, from Oxford, competed against the couple and finished with a time of 1:02:34.

Though the Ruginskis didn’t win, they did well for first-time competitors. The pair decided just two days beforehand to compete in the competition.

“Honestly, on Thursday, we thought, ‘Should we do this?’ We decided to try it. … She got on my back and we ran around the house once, and I was like ‘yeah, we got this!'”

Fellow competitors Tony and Liz Brodie of Gardiner didn’t qualify for the final round, but, according to Liz, that wasn’t their main objective anyway.

“We lived … we didn’t fall over, we lived,” said Liz. “We didn’t fall, and I got a little wet in the water. We remained upright the whole way. That was our only goal, not to fall over.”

Unlike the Ruginskis, the Brodies practiced; not running, but the art of clinging to someone without falling off.

“We practiced a lot to make sure there wouldn’t be any concussions. … You couldn’t really practice the rest of it. You just gotta go,” said Liz.

Tony agreed that the hardest part of the course was the hill.

“Running up the hill with a hundred and forty pounds on your back … wow,” said Tony.

According to wife-carrying.org, wife carrying originated in Finland, and its history is based on the legend Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, or “Ronkainen the Robber,” a nefarious Finnish bandit who, as legend has it, terrorized villages and stole women, carrying them away on his back.

The first wife-carrying World Championship began in Sonkajärvi, Finland, in 1992, and the North American Championship began at Sunday River in 1999.

Liz and Tony Brodie said they had fun, and were considering competing again next year. This year, they counted small victories.

“We remained upright, and we’re still married,” said Liz.

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