When Olympic legend Dame Lisa Carrington married the love of her life in a romantic beachside ceremony in O-hope last week, it signalled the joyous final chapter of a fairytale year.
Just seven months after becoming New Zealand's greatest-ever Olympian, the kayaking star's stunning wedding to her longtime partner Michael "Bucky" Buck was, in many ways, a celebration not only of their 12-year love story, but also of the family and friends who've been so pivotal in the 32-year-old's incredible success.
Tears were shed and laughter shared as the pair exchanged their uniquely personal vows in an outdoor ceremony, before partying into the night at the local campground hall.
"I've always wanted to get married – that's something that's always been important to both of us," says Lisa, speaking exclusively to Woman's Day at her final dress fitting just a week before the big day.
"For me, marriage is about giving our relationship what it deserves and acknowledging it in a really special way. It's about solidifying what we already have."
The laid-back yet elegant wedding was held on Saturday, 19 March, in the Bay of Plenty town where Lisa's school-teacher parents Glynis and Pat still live, and where she dreams of one day raising her own children.
"It's the place where I feel the happiest and the most relaxed," says Lisa, who is of Te-Aitanga-a-Ma-haki and Nga-ti Porou descent. "It's home and I love it."
And she was a breathtakingly stunning bride, resplendent in an off-the-shoulder, pearl-coloured custom Tanya Carlson creation, drawing gasps from not only her husband-to-be, but also her 100 guests as she walked down the aisle to Six60's emotional song Pepeha.
Her bridesmaids, fellow Olympic kayaker Jaimee McAleese, old friend Julia Kihi-Coates and sports journalist Ashlee Tulloch, all looked gorgeous in emerald green, making their entrance ahead of the bride to Coldplay's Yellow. They joined an excited Bucky and his five groomsmen before Lisa's grand entrance.
After the heartwarming ceremony, in which the couple exchanged vows they wrote themselves, guests strolled across the road to the O-hope Christian Camp hall for a night of revelry. There were hilarious speeches, great food and music, and a whole lot of love.
Lisa tells us she still can't quite believe how lucky she is to have met her life partner 12 years ago and she's adamant she could never have achieved what she has without him by her side.
"He's been such a constant in my life. I've grown up with him in many ways and we're so fortunate we've grown closer together as we've got older, rather than growing apart. He's someone who I know always has my back. He's always there for me and we have a lot of fun together. He's the best person at making me laugh."
But Lisa laughs and rolls her eyes as she tells us their first dance song was chosen especially by Bucky, 38.
"I don't even know what the song is called," she admits with a giggle. "But Bucky loves it, so I just went with it. We'd talked about having dance lessons, but we ran out of time, so we just had to wing it!"
It was during the reception that the full spectacle of Lisa's stunning dress was revealed.
As the evening light faded and the music ramped up, she whipped off her detachable floor-length skirt, made of a luxurious duchess silk, to reveal a fabulous '80s-inspired mini-dress underneath – perfect for the dance floor. "I wanted something I could move in," Lisa smiles.
The dress creation was a collaborative labour of love between Lisa and Tanya, the iconic Kiwi designer who's worked with many of New Zealand's highest-profile celebrities and sportspeople.
"Tanya has made all my dresses for various award ceremonies and events over the years, and I feel so lucky that she agreed to create my wedding dress because she's incredible," says Lisa. "I wanted a dress that would make me still feel like myself, but a glammed-up version! I wanted to feel confident and beautiful, with the sense that the dress just fitted me perfectly.
"And every time I went back for another fitting, it got closer and closer to how I imagined it. It all started with a dream of how I wanted it to look, so it feels really special now that it's all come to fruition. I absolutely love it."
The chic off-the-shoulder sleeves were inspired by Lisa's vision of a white shirt casually falling off the shoulders and it was up to Tanya to make it a reality – she spent many hours creating different versions out of calico to ensure they had the perfect design, before cutting into the 12m of silk used for the real thing.
Tanya says the golden glow of the fabric matched Lisa's skin tone perfectly, while the thigh-high split added a modern twist to the classic, timeless style.
"She's a gorgeous girl, so it doesn't get much more special than this," grins Tanya. "And she's a dream to work with. She's focused, calm and thoughtful, and so down-to-earth that it's easy to forget sometimes that she's a dame!"
While the creation of the dress was a wonderful experience, the actual wedding planning was a little more stressful thanks to the global pandemic. There were moments in lockdown last year when Lisa and Bucky, who works in banking, feared the day might not go ahead at all.
And then – after sending out invitations to 140 friends and family – they had the heart-breaking experience of having to reduce their numbers to comply with new rules capping gatherings at 100 people.
"That was incredibly stressful," says Lisa, grimacing. "We really didn't enjoy that. We phoned people up and everyone was really understanding, but we still felt so bad because they were friends who we really had wanted to be there. No one wants to have to uninvite people. It was definitely not a fun task!"
But she credits her amazing partner for taking the lead as chief wedding planner in the final few weeks, stepping up when Lisa's intense six-days-a-week training schedule meant she had little time for all the last-minute preparations.
She says his enthusiasm for the event was awe-inspiring. "He took all the stress off my shoulders and I'm so grateful for that. But I also loved seeing his excitement levels grow. He was just so excited about getting married."
Lisa admits it's Bucky who is the romantic in the relationship. While she's thrilled to have made it official, she's not sure whether marriage will change things between them.
"I already feel so secure and safe with Bucky, so I'm not sure if married life will feel different. Perhaps I'll be surprised. All I know is that I'm so lucky to have him as my husband. I love knowing he's always there to go home to.
"I love his values – he has such good values. He can push me on things, and he questions me and makes me question myself, which is a good thing because not everyone else does that. And he helps me to stick to my own values too. We keep each other honest."
The newlyweds, who live on Auckland's North Shore, have no plans for a honeymoon yet, but they hope they might be able to have a holiday together after the Canoe Sprint World Championships in Halifax, Canada, in August.
"We have been so lucky with all the travelling we've done over the years," she enthuses. "We've had so many cool trips as a couple – so for us, what we're both really looking forward to is enjoying just being at home together and being married. It's exciting."
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