Tying The Knot: Meet Five Engaged Triathlon Couples
Though most people aren’t looking for love in the transition area, some triathletes have found romance amidst the swim, bike and run.
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Though most people aren’t looking for love in the transition area, some triathletes have found romance amidst the swim, bike and run. This Valentine’s Day, we celebrate five triathlete couples who will tie the knot in 2013.
Mary Ellen & Wayne
When Mary Ellen Graf, joined the Wykoff YMCA in New Jersey, a handsome member of the triathlon club caught her eye. Soon, Wayne Loranger, became her favorite partner for triathlon and romance.
“We trained together last year for the New York City Ironman, and it was the first Ironman for both of us. Training for this triathlon is grueling, but being able to share that experience helped each other tremendously,” recalls Mary Ellen, “We shared aches and pains, highlights and lowlights, and were a great support system for one another during the 8 months of training. Completing that race together is something we will never forget.”
Little did Mary Ellen know, a new finish-line high was waiting for her just a few months after Ironman NYC. Wayne planned a romantic proposal at the finish line of the New York City Marathon, but Superstorm Sandy, which cancelled the race, thwarted his plans. Under the guise of wanting to use their marathon fitness, Wayne suggested they travel to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the following weekend for the city’s marathon. It was there where he was finally able to propose to Mary Ellen.
Wayne and Mary Ellen will marry on Aug. 17, 2013, in Englewood, New Jersey. The two plan to start their wedding day the same way they started their relationship: running with their training group.
“These people have become some of the most important people in our lives,” says Mary Ellen, “the wonderful friendships that we have formed through this group is an extension of our love for one another and another blessing that has come our way since becoming a couple.”
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Dora & Greg
Greg Antoni did not propose to Dora Kemecsei on one knee. After all, it was impossible to kneel in the middle of a lake.
The day before eXtremeMan 2011, an iron-distance race in Hungary, the two went for a short swim together. It was there, while floating in their wetsuits, that Greg produced a ring and asked Dora to marry him.
Triathlon has been central to their life together, from their home décor (“We had to build a shed to store all our bikes, and we have more running shoes than normal ones!” laughs Greg) to their weekend trips in search of hills and open water.
“We help each other develop where needed. She helps me develop my swimming, I help her getting better on the bike,” says Greg, “Sometimes we run together on races, so I can cover the wind for her. But when it comes to race day, we let go of each other. Dora swims away from me, and we meet and give each other a high five on the bike.”
There will be some high-fives happening on their honeymoon. After the two marry in Budapest, Hungary in May, the newlyweds will travel to France to race Ironman Nice.
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Stephanie & Jeff
During her her last long run before Ironman Louisville 2010, Stephanie Melkonian noticed an M-dot tattoo on a calf running ahead of her on Chicago’s lakefront path. When she looked up, she noticed the tattoo was attached to the good-looking body of Jeff Linkus.
“I made it my mission to chase him down,” recalls Stephanie, “and at the next water fountain we stopped to chat. After about ten minutes, it became clear he wasn’t going to ask my name or number, much to my dismay, so we parted ways. I referred to him as The Ironman Who Didn’t Ask For My Digits for the next month, until I gave up on the idea that I would ever run into him again.”
“I didn’t have my phone, paper, or even pockets!” Jeff is quick to interject in defense.
Fate intervened two months later, when Stephanie entered the online dating scene and was matched up with a local triathlete. During their initial conversations, it quickly became clear that Jeff was the mysterious Ironman Stephanie had met on the lakefront path.
“We both remembered that day really clearly, and couldn’t believe that in a city of millions, we had met by chance twice. We’ve been together ever since, and to this day, I don’t let Jeff live down the fact that he didn’t ask for my number the first day on the bike path.”
The two were engaged in Kona, Hawaii last April while participating in the Lavaman Olympic Distance Triathlon. Though training and racing is a large part of the relationship, their Chicago wedding on May 4, 2013 will largely be a triathlon-free zone.
“There may be a subtle nod to it here and there, but the wedding day is just as much about our friends and family as it is about us, so we tried to keep triathlon out of it.” reveals Stephanie, before adding with a smile:
“That’s not to say our getaway vehicle won’t have two wheels.”
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Holly & Jon
When Holly Higgins approached Jon Bird to discuss payment for his spin class, she had no idea she was part of a setup.
“I had inquired about the hot blonde in [mutual friend] Paul’s Thursday night spin class,” says Jon. Paul then strategically invited Holly to a special Saturday brick class Jon was coaching. When Holly offered to pay Jon for the class, Jon said he’d like to take her out instead. That spin class was the start of a whirlwind relationship.
Because Jon is a professional triathlete, the lifestyle requires a particular dedication to the sport. A year into their relationship, the two moved to Victoria, British Columbia so Jon could train with the Canadian National team for the Olympic lead-up.
“Both of us grew so much as athletes during that time,” recalls Holly, who races as an age group triathlete, “and also as a couple-team. With Jon being a professional, there are some extra courtesies extended to him during the season.”
These courtesies include sleeping extra hours, limiting some social events, and fastidious attention to every training and racing detail. Holly has also learned to live with food disappearing at an alarming rate:
“I’ve figured out that anything, food-wise, I really care about needs to be hidden! Almond butter, Nutella, any form of chocolate – Jon has found and inhaled the hidden food stash on multiple occasions, so now I have to rotate where I hide food around the house. Recent hiding places have included the bookshelf, shoe closet, and sock drawer!”
Triathlon also affected their wedding planning, as the two have decided to wait until 2013 race season ends to marry. Their wedding will take place Dec. 21, 2013 in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
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Katie & Eric
Katie Cunnane and Eric Rybczynski grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, only 15 minutes apart from each other; they even attended the same preschool. However, their paths crossed twenty years later in St. Louis, Missouri, when the two met for lunch.
Eric, a 12-year survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was a new triathlete racing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. As their relationship evolved, Katie became his biggest supporter, attending every one of Eric’s races. Soon, she became hooked on the sport as well, signing up for her first triathlon in 2011. Today, the two race together for Team in Training, completing St. Anthony’s Triathlon and Branson 70.3 in 2012.
“Triathlon plays a crucial role in our relationship as it strengthens our commitment to each other to stay healthy and active,” says Eric, “It provides an engaging hobby that we can both participate in and have passion for together.”
Shortly before their 70.3 race in Branson, the two traveled to Europe, where Eric proposed on the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea on Italy. They toasted their engagement with locally-made Limoncello, which will serve as the signature aperitif at their wedding on Sept. 21, 2013 in Naperville, Illinois.
The two continue to train and race through wedding planning. Jokes Katie:
“Eric is feverishly trying to schedule races around all the pre-wedding activities required for a Catholic wedding!”