When the shout went out for a couple to parachute their way to wedded bliss, this pair signed up for love – and their family jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet would get anyone’s heart racing. But for Nathan Smith, the real thrill came when he saw fiancée Michaela Vaughan walking down the aisle after their wedding–day skydive.
The adventurous Christchurch couple took the leap last week – in more ways than one – after winning Mai FM’s Mai-le High Wedding competition. The whole wedding, from stag do and hen’s night to reception, was paid for – but there was a catch.
Michaela, 20, and Nathan, 30, had to first exchange their vows in the air and complete the skydive to make it official!
"The jump was amazing, but seeing her in her dress and hearing people say "Mr and Mrs Smith" was the most exciting part for me," Nathan, a security project supervisor, reveals.
It was a moment he'd dreamed of ever since mutual friends introduced him to Michaela in January. "I knew she was the one the day I met her. I've never felt like that about anyone in my life."
After a whirlwind three–month courtship, he was ready to pop the question. During a trip to romantic Hanmer Springs, north of Christchurch, he took Michaela on a morning hike up Conical Hill. Dressed in their running gear, the couple reached a lookout with a stunning view of the region – and when Michaela turned around, she encountered an even more breath–taking sight. "Nathan was down on one knee with the ring in his hand," Michaela, an accounts manager, recalls. "I didn’t expect it at all – I was so shocked!"
The engagement brought a ray of light to what had been a tough few years for the pair. Nathan donated a kidney to his dad, Laurence, who has chronic kidney failure, but a blood clot meant the transplant lasted only five hours. Meanwhile, Michaela's mum Jenny was battling cancer.
When the couple heard about Mai FM's competition, Michaela penned an emotional letter to the radio station. "It's all about family," she wrote. "I love my mum and I know that she would love nothing more than to see her daughter marry the man of her dreams. I guess you could say time is of the essence."
Her plea won over the judges, who chose her entry out of more than 250. The couple, their parents and the wedding party were flown up to Auckland and, on September 13, they boarded a plane for the last time as an unmarried couple. More than 100,000 Mai FM listeners heard celebrant Kathy Bigwood take them through their vows.
Then it was time for the big jump – a first for both of them.
"I just said, 'Look guys, you're going to have to push me'," Michaela admits. "My stomach dropped at first, but after that passed I felt like a bird flying in the air. We might do it again for our first anniversary!"
Michaela jumped in a 'stunt gown', then changed into the real thing – a silky ivory dress from Astra Bridal – for another ceremony on the ground in front of friends and family.
"We were still buzzing from the jump," she recalls. "The adrenaline was out of control."
Her mum, who is recovering after a round of chemotherapy, was there to congratulate her.
"She's staying positive. She doesn't let it get to her," Michaela explains.
The other guest of honour was Nathan's dad, who has received a second kidney transplant – this one successful.
"He's feeling fantastic now," Nathan says happily. "I'm so glad he's still around for the wedding. I didn't cry, but I got very, very close when I was hugging my family."