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Carrying On: UNH Pair Claim North American Wife-Carrying Title

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
October 22, 2008

Ri Fahnestock and Sarah Silverberg like to push the limits.

Fahnestock, who manages the wood shop for the UNH art department, runs ultramarathons—that’s 50 to 100 miles at a time. Silverberg, an employee at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, is an avid telemark skier. Both are into rock climbing and adventure racing, which can be done on- or off-road, on snowshoes, toboggans or mountain bikes. Anything that gets the blood pumping.

So, winning in the 9th Annual North American Wife-Carrying Championship at Sunday River in Bethel, Maine, last week was a piece of cake. The victory was especially sweet because it bested last year’s efforts when they came in second.

The UNH couple (they aren’t married; the contest rules allow unmarried teams to participate) learned about the wife-carrying competition from friends and decided to add it to their list of adventures.

 Doing so—or, more precisely, winning—netted them a $1,000 travel voucher to attend the wife-carrying world championship in Finland sometime next summer. Fahnestock and Silverberg are planning to go but will practice before then.

“Apparently they take it a little more seriously over there,” Fahnestock says. “They have a carrying style name for them.”

The Estonian style of wife-carrying, which Fahnestock and Silverberg employed, has the woman lying face down against the man’s back, with her feet forward and grabbing her own legs from under his armpits.

“It’s surprisingly difficult for both the man and the woman,” Fahnestock says. “Sarah had her work cut out for her being upside down and holding onto her legs. It takes a lot of athleticism.”

The couple trained for the run, which took less than a minute and had them crossing logs, sloshing through a 10-foot water hazard and racing up a steep hill covered with wood chips.
“When we first starting training last year, I used to yell encouraging things like, ‘you can do it’, ‘come on, you've got it’ but I realized after last year's race that Ri was just in the zone focusing all of his attention and did not hear anything I said. Now I save my breath and just hold on tighter,” Silverberg says.

The title was almost lost this year to Cary Girod and Austin Stonebraker, UNH graduate students who came in second.

“They smoked us in the first heat; they beat our time by four seconds. We were trailing and then Austin had a stumble and we were able to pass,” Fahnestock says.

In addition to the travel voucher, the couple won his weight in beer and hers in one dollar bills. Fahnestock’s next race has an even bigger payout: on Nov. 1 he will run a 100-mile race that is the last in a six-race series and awards the winner $10,000. The person with the highest score from all six events wins.

Fahnestock is the only one who has done all six. So, all he has to do is finish the race to win—something he says he will do no matter what.

“I’ll crawl my way across the finish line if I have to,” he says. “There’s no way I’m giving up.”

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