FORT KENT, Maine — The path to the altar can take many forms. It can be long or short, direct or circuitous, smooth or bumpy. Or, in the case of newlyweds Jennifer and Steven Fisher, very, very muddy.
The two were married on Aug. 23 after finishing a grueling 7.2-mile Spartan obstacle race on the mountain where they met three years ago.
As if running a Spartan — or planning a wedding for that matter — were not tough enough, the Fishers completed the race in full wedding regalia, right down to the tiara, cumberbund and bouquet — all while surrounded by hundreds of their newest, muddiest friends.
“We were really kind of suprised how it blew up,” Jennifer Fisher, a 39-year-old Caribou High School graduate who grew up in Woodland, said this week from her home in northern Virginia. “It was pretty much a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
Engaged since December, Fisher said she and her fiance, who has three children from a previous relationship, had talked about a fall wedding, but knew they did not want to go over the top with a big expensive ceremony.
“We talked about just taking the kids and going to a justice of the peace,” Fisher said. “But that just seemed kind of lame.”
While the couple had not registered for wedding gifts, they had registered for the Wintergreen Mountain Spartan Race in Virginia.
“That’s the same mountain we ran our first race together,” Fisher said. “We always dress up [for races] in silly costumes, and I was like, ‘We should run it in the wedding dress and tux.’”
Certain that her fiance would laugh off the notion, Fisher said she was delighted when he allowed that that was a pretty good idea.
They had three weeks to pull together what they called “The Spartan Elopement,” and invitations were sent out over social media and emails, friends flew in from across the country and a very close friend recently diagnosed with a serious disease agreed to conduct the ceremony.
“She toughed it out and married us at the end,” Fisher said. “It was so amazing to have her there and share this with us.”
Fisher had ordered her wedding dress last winter, after finding the perfect gown that fit her athletic frame.
“This was a full, multi-layered ball gown,” she said. “With a six-foot train.”
Veterans of numerous Spartan and Tough Mudder races, the Fishers also were looking for a way to increase the difficulty of the event in which participants race over a course and tackle obstacles such as wall climbs, mud pits, rope swings and fire.
“I figured wearing a wedding dress would up the challenge,” she said. “Turned out this was the hardest race we had ever done.”
The white dress remained white for the first few feet, but soon was soaking wet and covered with mud, adding an extra 40 pounds for Fisher to lug as she competed.
Between the weighty dress and Steve Fisher’s full tuxedo, Jennifer Fisher said the two got very tired and very dehydrated.
Of the dozen or so obstacles on the course, Fisher said there were only a couple she did not attempt, thanks to the dripping, muddy dress.
“The rope climb was out,” she said. “I had an extra 40 pounds hanging off of me [and] I did not crawl under the barb wire because the dress would have gotten caught in it.”
As it was, Fisher said she still left a trail of fabric and chiffon along the course where the dress got snagged on thorns and branches.
“We got over a bunch of walls and under water obstacles that got the dress completely soaked,” she said. “I had lots of temporary bridesmaids helping me along the way.”
At one point three women got her up and over a tricky ladder obstacle while an anonymous male racer helped her get the waterlogged train of the dress up and over a wall.
“He was really nice,” Fisher said. “He stopped and helped me squeeze the water out.”
The hardest part, she said, was the final fire obstacle, in which they had to jump over a patch of burning coals.
“I put the whole dress over my shoulder and wrapped it around me so it would not catch on fire,” Fisher sid. “But it weighed so much and I could not jump or get much air and the embers I kicked up hit the dress and it started to catch on fire.”
While an army of photographers tried to stop the couple to get finish line photos, Fisher said she was far more concerned with slapping out those embers on the dress.
“That had been my worst nightmare,” she said. “That we would do this and then I’d burst into flames.”
The couple normally completes a Spartan race in four to five hours. This one took them almost seven and a half, due to the extra weight of those wedding clothes.
Jennifer and Steve Fisher, 38, work as computer software engineers, and Jennifer said her northern Maine childhood was the perfect preparation for their shared passion of mud racing.
“I had a great childhood,” she said. “I grew up on a farm and the woods were my playground [and] I was never told I could not do something because I was a girl.”
For Fisher, picking potatoes, hauling firewood or driving tractors was a part of daily life.
“My dad did weights and turned our basement into a powerlifting gym,” she said. “I lifted weights from the time I could walk [and] he made me little miniature weights.”
Fisher’s parents, Stephen and Agatha Wardwell, still live in northern Maine.
After crossing the finish line on Wintergreen Mountain, Jennifer and Steve were rushed to the event’s stage, where a crowd of about 400 watched them exchange vows.
“It was amazing,” Fisher said. “I married my best friend and there was this sense of us starting out our life together doing something we are totally, crazy passionate about.”
The race was also a good test, she said.
“Our wedding aisle was a 7.2-mile-long race,” Fisher said. “I figure if Steve did not get cold feet and take off along the way, we are pretty solid. He still put that ring on my finger at the end.”