After two cancelled weddings, a terrifying family health scare and almost five years of long-distance love, Olympic kayaker Kayla Imrie could hardly believe it when she woke on 2 July with the realisation she and her beau Josh Tyrell would finally get to say "I do".
"The fact we went through so much to get here made the day so incredibly special," the athlete tells Woman's Day just days after their wedding at Oreti Village, on the shores of Lake Taupō. "I've never been so happy in my life. The whole day was so full of joy and love."
It's three years since the French-based couple got engaged and to say they've been through a lot would be an understatement.
Their first wedding date in 2020 was cancelled due to COVID travel restrictions and the second was scuppered after Josh was unable to leave Biarritz due to his rugby contract.
While their third attempt looked to be on track, the pair were devastated when his brother Lii Asiata was hurt in a charity boxing match a week before the wedding. Fearing the worst, Josh and his close-knit family rushed to Lii's hospital bedside in Sydney, where they remained for several days as he recovered from a serious brain bleed.
"It was really scary, but he's doing well now," tells Josh, 31. "He was meant to be one of my groomsmen, but instead he watched the wedding on a livestream. At least he's OK, though – that's all that matters."
With everyone back in Aotearoa on time, the couple were thrilled when the big day finally arrived. They chose the gorgeous lakeside venue so that everyone could stay onsite for the weekend-long celebrations.
Waking on the wedding day to blue skies and not a breath of wind, everything felt perfect, says Kayla, 30. After two long years, she couldn't wait to step into the stunning off-the-shoulder Jessica Bridal gown that she won in a competition soon after becoming engaged.
"I was so lucky to win, but I'm also lucky that it was a classic, timeless design because I still absolutely love it."
While many couples have their photos taken after the ceremony, Kayla and Josh decided to make the most of the day by having them beforehand. Josh admits he couldn't hold back the tears when he saw his bride.
"I was just blown away," he recalls. "She was so stunning. I looked over and saw Kayla's dad crying, then there was no going back. I tried to hold the emotion in, but I couldn't."
Kayla, on the other hand, was cool, calm and collected. All she could think about was how handsome her husband-to-be looked in his suit and red ula fala, a traditional Samoan necklace.
"I was just like, 'Man, you look so, so good!' I couldn't stop smiling. I was fizzing that I get to marry this guy."
After being walked down the aisle by her dad, Kayla exchanged personal vows with Josh in front of their delighted guests, including Olympic medallist and fellow paddler Dame Lisa Carrington. Kayla promised to be "the Robin to your Batman" – a nod to Josh's love of the superhero, whose name is even engraved on the inside of his wedding band!
Meanwhile, Josh's vows included the pick-up line he used when he first met Kayla at a Whitianga bar back in 2014. "There were lots of private jokes in our vows that were special just to us," he laughs.
Kayla's family friend Karen Simpson-Warren was celebrant and the minister from Josh's family church in Hamilton performed a blessing.
After being pronounced husband and wife, the couple skipped back up the aisle as their guests showered them in confetti and flower petals.
"That was one of the best parts," says the new Mrs Tyrell. "Everyone was so excited for us and we were so happy. It felt incredible to be married."
The bride, who is of Whakatōhea heritage, then slipped away to change into her second dress – a sexy satin slip with a thigh-high split made by Judy Gao – for the reception. It was here that the couple's cultures were really brought to life.
Guests performed a rousing haka for the newlyweds and Josh's dad led a customary Samoan gifting ceremony. Kayla even learned a traditional siva Samoa dance to perform. "I was so nervous, but everyone was clapping, cheering and encouraging me," she says. "It was really special and it felt right to honour Josh's culture like that."
At 12.30am, although many of their guests carried on partying, the exhausted and happy newlyweds retired to their cottage to debrief on their incredible day.
"After such a crazy journey to get there, it felt so perfect," shares Kayla. "The hard times we'd been through made us so grateful."
While they hope to have a honeymoon later this year, it's straight back to work for the talented athletes.
Kayla – who was disappointed to miss out on Olympic selection in Tokyo last year – is travelling to Canada as part of the support crew for the Kiwi kayakers at the canoe world champs, while Josh is flying back to France to start pre-season training.
Although Kayla would love to paddle competitively again, she's happy to take each day as it comes. Starting a family is definitely something this couple is looking forward to, but in the meantime, they're counting the days till they're reunited with their dog Kobe.
"We've missed her so much," admits Kayla. "She's living her best life at a doggy daycare. We get photos and videos every day, so we know she's happy."
Whatever happens, it's clear these two have found their perfect match.
"I really can't imagine a life without Josh," says Kayla. "He's one of those people who can walk into a room and make everyone laugh. He brings happiness everywhere he goes, so it's just the best thing knowing I get to grow old with him."
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