Kiersten Downs, 34, couldn’t find her groom Thomas Martineau right before their first dance, and while most brides would freak out, she managed to stay calm. Her wedding planner told her he was in the bathroom and would come through the doors at the opposite side of the room and meet her.
When she was announced, she took a deep breath and entered the room by herself. “I danced my way in and had to adjust my eyes because something was different,” she told TODAY.
That’s because her groom was standing in the middle of the dance floor in an upright position. The 31-year-old Air Force veteran became paralyzed from the chest down in a 2008 motorcycle accident, and is usually in a wheelchair. But he devised a plan to suspend himself from the rafters so he could share this special moment with his bride.
“Because I have a tendency to freak out, I think my first thought was, “Holy moly, I hope he doesn’t fall!” she said. “In the corner of my eye I saw our good friend Steve Hill, the lead trainer at Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center in Tampa, and knew he was the mastermind behind it all.”
It turns out Martineau had gone to Hill several weeks prior asking him to help with this wedding surprise. Downs didn’t suspect anything since she was so focused on her own things. “I was working and writing the last couple chapters of my dissertation and trying to figure out where I wanted to take my career,” she said.
This was also their third attempt at planning a wedding. The first was canceled for logistical reasons, and the previous time, Martineau got really sick and just a week prior to the wedding, so the couple had to cancel everything. “Thomas ended up in surgery, and we spent our holidays in the VA hospital,” she said.
But as they say, the third time’s the charm. The couple chose their first dance song after Downs, also a veteran, heard it performed at a veterans and community open mic night. “It was here that I shared this story of my military service for the first time publicly. In the crowd and also performing that night was the band, The War and Treaty,” she said.
“My story resonated with Michael Trotter, lead singer, songwriter, and musician of the group, who also is a three-time Iraq war veteran. That night, Michael and his amazingly talented wife Tanya Trotter dedicated the song ‘Unbreaking Your Heart’ to me,” she said. “I shared that song with Thomas later that evening, and with tears he said, ‘That’s our wedding song.’”
And it worked beautifully. During the dance, the two swayed together and received claps and cheers from the crowd as he twirled her around.
Downs said she’s looking forward to the future with her husband, who knows a thing or two about the element of surprise. “I am so excited for all of the adventures we will get to go on together,” she said.