Lauren and Brad

How we met: Our story started with a few passed notes in AP US History our senior year of high school. Brad was the cool soccer player and I was the new girl from the north. Though we both liked each other (but never told one another), we went our separate ways: him to Clemson and me to Sweet Briar. To this day, he claims I was too cool to pay attention and date him in high school.

Image 1 of Lauren and BradThree years after we first passed notes, we went on our first date. Both of us had long-term relationships that came to an end, and he was finally bold enough to ask me out – through Facebook – while we were both home for the summer. We went out to dinner, talked about the horse races that were on the restaurant’s TV (one of my passions) and I kicked his butt in putt-putt.

We returned to school and were eventually able to reconnect in the winter. For our third date, he got dinner reservations at a restored carriage house (because of my love for horses) and we went ice skating. I kept waiting for him to hold my hand, but he chickened out. At the end of the night, we went to the top of the parking garage to look out over the city covered in snow. I wanted to kiss him then and there, but I chickened out. Finally, at my door later that night, we kissed.

The rest of our story is one of excitement, adventure, love and frustration. We didn’t know the short time we had together when we first started dating would be the only time we were really together. Because of school and work, we’ve been long-distance for all but 3 months in our 4.5 year relationship.

how they asked: Over the course of our relationship, Brad has become more ingrained in one of my biggest passions – horse racing. We’ve gone to some of the biggest races, including the Breeders’ Cup and Preakness, but there was one I still had to check off my list: the Kentucky Derby.

Brad planned an elaborate trip to Kentucky, complete with reservations at insane restaurants, tours to the greatest farms so I could see my favorite horses, trips to our favorite bourbon distilleries and amazing tickets for both the Kentucky Oaks and Derby. I flew to Indiana, where he lives, and we drove the five hours down to Louisville.

Image 2 of Lauren and Brad

I had an inkling this would be THE trip, but I didn’t want to get too excited. If I spent my time waiting for THE moment, I didn’t want to be disappointed when it didn’t happen. I wanted to focus on the horses and the time I had with him. That being said, I got my nails done for the first time ever prior to hopping on that plane. ;)

I’m not quite sure why, but I figured Brad would get down on one knee on the day of the Kentucky Oaks, which is the day before the Derby.

We had an amazing day at the racetrack and headed off to the one restaurant I’d requested we try while in Kentucky. In the car, I wore his suit jacket as I had done all day at the track (the wind was a bit chilly!) and felt something pricking me from the inside. He didn’t seem concerned when I kept feeling around, trying to figure it out. At dinner, nothing happened. We left to head back the hotel, mostly excited for the day to come but with a twinge of disappointment.

And that’s when I fell asleep in the car. When I woke up, I saw Louisville all lit up through the windshield. Louisville was NOT the direction we should have been going in, but I’m not the one with the good sense of directions. I asked if we were going the wrong way, and he said we were coming back the way we came. For some reason, this made sense to me. I fell back asleep (hey, it had been a looong day!).

When I woke up again, I saw a huge white wall with the Churchill Downs logo on it. “What are we doing here? Babe?” He explained that he wanted me to get my photo opp in front of Churchill Downs, with the Barbaro statue. I tried earlier that day, but we were already inside the track and pretty much everyone wants the same photo I did. So I thought OK, that’s cute.

Churchill Downs is beautiful lit up at night. We walked hand-in-hand to the front of Churchill Downs, and he started asking me about Barbaro, the horse the statue was built to honor. I told him his story as he started to circle the statue, eventually asking me to stand beside him so I could get a good picture of it all.

That’s when he grabbed both hands. “Do you love me?” He asks this a lot, and I typically joke around with an answer like “Eh, I think I’ll keep you.” But this time seemed different. He squeezed my hands a little bit and asked again: “Do you love me?” I said “yes,” but I was really thinking ohmygoshohmygoshisthisitcanthisbeitit’sreallyhappening!

He reached into the suit jacket I was wearing, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Most of the moment is a blur, but I heared a happy scream from a girl standing nearby. After I said yes, he picked me up and hugged me as bystanders cheered. Several of them came up to offer their congratulations, and one Churchill Downs employee came up to say he got most of it on video (!!!!).

Image 3 of Lauren and Brad

The rest of our trip was amazing because we had so much happiness inside. People we had just met even guessed that we had recently gotten engaged because they felt our joy and caught me checking out my ring. Brad later admitted that he had carried the ring loose in his pocket for the entire trip, unsure of where the moment would happen. Because I wore his jacket at the track that day, I had unknowingly carried the ring with me.

We have a long journey to our wedding, considering our long-distance relationship, but it’s been quite the ride so far!

Image 4 of Lauren and Brad