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After winning North American wife-carrying race, Wisconsin couple eyes world championship

Caleb and Justine Roesler defend their continental title at event in Maine

Couples pose after competing in the wife-carrying championships in Maine
Caleb and Justine Roesler, center left and right, pose with other couples after winning the North American Wife Carrying Championship in October in Maine. Photo courtesy of Luc Burns/Sunday River Resort

Wife-carrying champion of North America Caleb Roesler said the first time he wanted to try the unusual sport with his wife, Justine, she had two demands.

“You better win, and you better not drop me,” Caleb Roesler remembered his wife telling him. “That’s all the motivation I need to know those are my goals.”

This fall, the Roeslers defended their North American title to become repeat champions. The Waukesha couple recently joined WPR’s “The Morning Show,” where Justine Roesler said it would be fun to one day compete at the world championship in Finland.

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“We have a really good chance at it,” she said.

Winning the title brought the Roeslers two gifts: Justine Roesler’s weight in beer and $5 for every pound she weighs. Caleb Roesler said they shared the beer with the crowd, and the money could pay for part of the trip to Maine this year for the championship race.

The Roeslers said they first heard about wife carrying about a decade ago. The sport has Finnish origins to the legend of a 19th century thief. Modern-day racing events started in Finland in 1992 and the North American Championship began in 1999, according to the North American competition’s website.

The couple explained how the sport works:

  • The race can involve running over hurdles and through water, and races might only take a few minutes — or slightly over a minute for winners.
  • There’s a time penalty for dropping the wife, who typically wears a helmet.
  • This is a spectator sport with a remarkable atmosphere of fans cheering racers on, Caleb Roesler said.
  • There are different carrying styles, but the Roeslers employ what’s known as the “Estonian carry,” which Justine Roesler described as an upside-down piggyback ride. Her head goes up against his back, and her legs are wrapped around his neck.

“I try to squeeze tight and make it like a backpack almost, so I’m not bouncing around,” she said.

While the sport is called wife carrying, teammates do not need to be legally married. Same-sex couples may compete in the North American championship, as well. That competition’s website says same-sex couples cannot qualify for the world championship, however.

Caleb Roesler said some racers are looking to have fun more than finish with the top time. Sometimes, he said high school buddies will enter races trying to see if they can complete the course.

When it comes to having fun or focusing on the win, the Roeslers find themselves in the middle.

“We don’t take it too (seriously),” Caleb Roesler said. “We try to run as fast (as) we can because we like the challenge, but we just try to have fun and enjoy the experience.”

23rd Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship – October 8, 2022 from Sunday River Media Page on Vimeo.

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