This is a love story, a family story, and a wedding. We’d love to share it to remind people that finding each other is not always a neat and tidy linear process, but there can be a happy ever after in the end.
Emma and I first met at a bike race a decade ago. I’d moved to New Zealand after finishing a Short Service Commission with the Royal Air Force in 2009. I’d never been to New Zealand but decided it was an adventure worth pursuing for a young doctor with a passion for the outdoors. I could fit my entire worldly possessions into the back of my old Ford Mondeo and didn’t own a house. I’d spent a few years racing as a junior cyclist in my mid to late teens and subsequently paused my sporting career pursuing medical school. My love for bicycles continued despite moving away from racing, and I attended many hospital placements arriving by bike. In fact, my first day at medical school involved me arriving on my BMX a week late, having been competing at the World XC Championships in Switzerland in 1997. On moving to New Zealand, I became immersed in a sporting environment again and took steps back to competitive cycling alongside doctoring. In 2012, I won the NZ Cyclocross National Championships.
Emma was running media for Cycling NZ. I remember her as this spunky young blonde who just blew me off my feet. She was charismatic and charming. She called to interview me. Then, after the interview, called back to double-check whether I wanted my partner to be referred to as “partner” or “wife” – to which I thought, “Woah, she’s not straight!”. I immediately connected with her, and we became best friends overnight. We’d message each other several times daily, sharing jokes and daily life experiences. We share exactly the same inappropriate witty sense of humour. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed with anyone so much in my life as I have/do with Emma.
Soon after that race, the relationship with my partner fell apart, and I found myself going through a dissolution for the second time in my life. Meanwhile, Emma got engaged and then got married. She invited me to her wedding. I wrestled with whether I should go or not for ages, then the week of the wedding declined the invitation deciding it was too difficult to watch her walking away with another woman. We stayed in touch, but I definitely tried to let her move on with her life.
Unbelievably, her relationship was over five months after she got married, and she was heartbroken. It was gut-wrenching watching her hurt. But I was extremely proud watching her go on her pre-booked honeymoon solo in New Caledonia and immersing herself in things she loved to do, like paddleboarding. She told me she was “done with women” and found a boyfriend.
I was still madly in love with her and still said nothing.
We lived 500km apart (either end of the North Island), and our relationship was one of watching each other journey through life, hoping the other was happy. One thing I really remember from those years was that she was always the first person to congratulate me on any life achievements – including a phone call from the other side of the world when I won the World 24 Hour Solo Championships in Scotland in 2014 (she had been following my progress from New Zealand).
By 2017, I was trying to summon the courage to tell her how I felt. I was increasingly cognizant that my feelings for her weren’t going away. Then, she phoned me out of the blue. I was having a bad day at work and was about to get much worse. She was calling to tell me she was pregnant. There was a long awkward pause as my heart shattered, then I composed myself and reinforced the importance of folic acid in the first trimester!
In March 2018, Emma delivered a beautiful boy into the world called Sebastien. He has all the smarts of his Mama and is a sensitive wee soul. When he reached 19 months, he became extremely sick. Em rushed him to the doctors, and that day he was flown by helicopter from Tauranga to the Children’s Hospital in Auckland for emergency heart surgery. He was diagnosed with pericarditis and had a critical condition called cardiac tamponade. Emma set up a group chat for her closest friends to keep them updated on his progress. And I was somewhat blown away to find myself added to it. We had barely been able to catch up with each other for the last two years, but she still valued my support. Thankfully, Sebastien made a full recovery.
Emma was now working for Sport New Zealand in Comms. Motherhood had meant she’d stopped her own competitive cycling (in the velodrome rather than in the dirt like me), but she still enjoyed taking Seb out on her bike in the Redwoods in Rotorua. I was running my own practice as a General Practitioner/Family Physician. I was also training and racing internationally (my Palmares by that time included World 24 Hour MTB Solo Champion, NZ Cyclocross Champion, Australia Cyclocross Series Winner, and 1 second off a top 30 at a World Cup in the USA). Life was busy.
I found out Emma was flying down to Wellington regularly for work and suggested we catch up. I was overjoyed when she accepted! We spent three hours talking while she nursed a soda water, which she then insisted on paying for. She almost missed her flight home – and I secretly wished she did! We told each other it was amazing to catch up and we should try to do it more often.
Soon after we parted, she sent me a message that she couldn’t stop the tears. I asked her if they were “happy tears,” and she replied that she’d been in love with me for almost a decade. I suggested we should talk. Many, many tears followed. We both felt we’d lost the opportunity for something extraordinary by never saying anything, and now it was too late. Emma was pregnant with her second child. We both had well-established homes and careers. We were conflicted about what to do but did something I will be eternally grateful for – and took a leap of faith following our hearts.
She was brave and courageous and allowed us to be us. She trusted me to be able to rise to the challenge of an entirely different life with motherhood and a new baby on the way, and a neurotic dog with a tendency to destroy furniture. Em upended her life and moved away from family and friends to the other end of the North Island, just as the global pandemic kicked off, and she was in late pregnancy. She was worried her decision would risk losing her family, but she still told me there was no option other than for us to be together.
I was 41 and can reassure you there are many things in life that medical school does not prepare you for. She gave me lessons about cloth nappies and baby routines and opened my eyes to what love and happiness really mean. In May 2020, two weeks earlier than scheduled, Louis arrived. A bouncy boy with a fearless approach to the world. We spoke about names, and I told Emma that I really didn’t mind what surname she chose for him. As I held him in my arms at 4 am, tears streamed down my face as she told me she wanted his surname to be Hurst. I know every mother says this, but he really was the most precious thing I have ever held.
Emma returned to work, this time as a Speech Writer at the Ministry of Health. I was still busy at my clinic. We shared night feeds and the chaos and carnage a newborn brings. Louis was not a sleeper. Emma expressed milk so I could help with his feeds. We filled the fridge with our favourite comfort food like baked oatmeal, provided a shoulder for each to cry on, and sent the other out for a walk when we could see how frazzled they were.
Work was sometimes finished by logging on remotely late at night, and we’d both sit up together until we were both done for the day. We tried to grab some form of exercise in between things. My life had gone from highly structured to chaotic and unpredictable, but I had never felt more loved or happier. It was the most intense period of my life. We discovered a love for gin. And I felt an incredible sense of duty and responsibility for my new family. I was also busy away from work, organising the National Cyclocross Championships in the Hutt Valley. Sebastien was now three years old and would come to the park with me to help set up the courses. He provided company and friendship and shared hot chocolate and ice cream.
In September 2020, on Emma’s birthday, I proposed to her. We’d both said we wouldn’t get married again, but our relationship felt different from anything we had experienced before. She had spent time living in France in her teens. Living up to the stereotypical Brit profile, I spoke no languages other than English (and the tiniest bit of Welsh from an upbringing in central Wales). I had a card printed with a sunset photo she had sent me before we were living together and the words, “Veux-tu m’épouser.” She said, “Oui.”
Life continued to run at full noise for us in 2021. We were two mamas working full time. One as a frontline health worker and one working in the Ministry of Health communications environment. We remained determined to spend quality time with the kids and bought a cargo bike. Which allowed the kids to sit up front comfortably while we pedaled around. I still laugh about how little the boys know about the caliber of the women they have riding their bikes along. We’d go fruit picking or ride out to parks and even went for an adventure around the upper South Island of 200kms over three days. Our longest day included 75kms and 2,000m of ascent on backcountry gravel roads with a toddler and a baby. I’d met my perfect match – she worked hard and played harder.
By the end of 2021, we were keen to explore a new adventure as a family. A job opportunity for me came up in the Adventure Capital of the World, Queenstown, and we grabbed it. We were in full knowledge that it would be a mad few months with house sales/purchases, business sales, and a wedding to organise, but we relished in the chance to raise the boys in Central Otago.
Almost a decade after we first met, on 4th February 2022, I married Emma. I should start with a preface that I have a long history of being clumsy. While most former partners have found it infuriating, Emma finds it adorable. I was determined that we have a bicycle at our wedding and our cargo bike seemed like the perfect steed. A long-tiered silk crepe dress, which billows in the breeze, was, in retrospect, not the ideal cycling attire. Sebastien helped me decorate the bike the day before with ribbons and flowers.
My confidence, having negotiated the initial 100m of my 2km ride trouble-free, was misplaced. And just around the corner, I got my beautiful gown stuck in the rear disc brake. The following convoy provided pit support and, after some struggle, had removed the rear wheel to release my dress. I was ordered to get in the front of the cargo bike. Where the kid’s seats are, and my Best Man (also a former competitive cyclist) escorted me to the venue. When we arrived, Em reassured me she could salvage the situation while reminding me that she’d warned of the inevitable ending to bicycle riding in a wedding gown and heels. She asked for the kitchen scissors from the vineyard and chopped the chewed-up piece of silk off while assuring me that she would “Definitely be framing that piece of material.”
Our ceremony and reception were filled with love and laughter. So, it may take a decade to get there. You may have had failed marriages or civil unions. You may be a woman in her forties thrown into the madness of motherhood. Or you may find the love of your life only to think you’ve missed the opportunity to be together. Still, with love and determination, you can end up with the person who adores you the way you are (far less than perfect) and takes to your gown with kitchen scissors to salvage it on their wedding day.
Photography by Andrew Turner
Cake Bicycle Kitchen
Catering & Venue Moy Hall Vineyard
Celebrant Steph Coutts
Dress Boutiques Sally Eagle Bridal, Anna Campbell Bridal, Gown + Altar
Earrings MARS, Amelie George
Engagement & Wedding Rings The Village Goldsmith, Tory & Ko
H&MU Makeup by J
Shoes Mi Piaci
Stationery Timberwink Studio