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America's Cup sailor Joe Sullivan's moonlight proposal

When his sweetheart said yes in Florence, Olympic medallist Joe struck gold all over again. “What a year!” he grins.

By Kelly Bertrand

It was always going to be tough for Kiwi sporting legend Joe Sullivan to top 2012, the year he won an Olympic gold medal alongside rowing partner Nathan Cohen.

But when Woman's Day catches up with the talented athlete and his gorgeous fiancée Jordyn Raggett-Brierley, 23, at their Auckland home, Joe, 30, simply can't stop smiling as he recounts an amazing 2017 that has seen him travel the world, buy a house, propose to the girl of his dreams and, of course, be a part of the team that brought the America's Cup back home.

"It's just been incredible," he says with a wide grin. "What a year. I can't believe it all myself!"

While bringing that big, shiny cup back to Aotearoa was an experience of a lifetime for the rower-turned-sailor, Joe's true highlight was, of course, dropping to one knee and proposing to his girlfriend of four years, who he met "on that really cool online-dating thing called Tinder".

"Well, we met on it when people were still using it to find relationships," laughs Jordyn.

After some long-distance dating – Joe was living in Cambridge, with Jordyn based in Tauranga – things quickly became serious. Following a few months of dinners and movies, the pair both realised they were on to a good thing. Although it did take Jordyn almost that long to realise Joe was a gold medal-winning Olympian!

"You'd think the branded car with '2012 Gold Medallist' written on it would have given it away!" she laughs.

"I didn't even realise for the first few dates – I just thought it was a business car. But eventually I clicked and asked him about it."

"Well, I didn't want to bring it up!" Joe replies bashfully. Jordyn continues, "He had to show me a video of his gold-medal race for me to believe it. I went home that night and I said to my mum,'I think we have to google this guy!'"

It was only six months later that the pair moved to Auckland together. Jordyn took up a role at a bank and Joe, who retired from rowing in 2014, started working as a firefighter.

But earlier this year, Joe embarked on the challenge of being a part of Emirates Team New Zealand as a grinder/cyclist and was soon heading for Bermuda, with Jordyn taking a break from her career to be with him for two months.

"I couldn't say no to an opportunity like that," she tells. "It was a scary decision to make, but it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

"Woohoo, we did it!" Bringing home the Auld Mug.
"Woohoo, we did it!" Bringing home the Auld Mug.

However, a few weeks after a victorious Team New Zealand and the "Auld Mug" returned home to parades, fanfare and celebrations, Jordyn was to have a few more incredible experiences.

Following the gruelling campaign to bring the cup home, Joe and Jordyn decided a bit of travel was in order, so they jumped back on a plane to take in Europe for six weeks. But little did she know Joe had a secret plan to propose.

"I was carrying the ring around with me the whole time," he explains.

"I had to ditch the box because Jordyn has a way of finding everything! My original plan was to do it by Lake Bled in Slovenia, where we used to row a lot."

Smiles on the podium in England as Joe and Nathan pick up Olympic rowing gold in 2012.
Smiles on the podium in England as Joe and Nathan pick up Olympic rowing gold in 2012.

However, everything changed when the pair enjoyed an unbelievable day in Florence together only a week into their trip.

"It was just one of those amazing days where everything was just right," recalls Jordyn with a sigh.

"They don't happen very often, but it really was perfect – romantic lunch, romantic dinner, heaps of sightseeing ... I actually remember thinking earlier in the day, 'If he would propose today, it really would be the best day ever!'"

Joe finally found the right moment just after 10pm, when they were strolling underneath Florence's famous Ponte Vecchio bridge in the moonlight.

"We were walking along and everything just seemed to fit," he tells.

Dropping to one knee, Joe held out the stunning teardrop diamond ring he'd designed himself and winged the speech!

"I just told her I'd loved the last few years we'd had together and I looked forward to many more," he tells. Of course, a delighted and slightly overwhelmed Jordyn said yes.

"I can't even describe the feelings I felt," she says, shaking her head. "Happy! Excited! Amazing!"

After enjoying a few more weeks in Europe, the pair headed home, where wedding plans are now full steam ahead. Shunning a long engagement, Joe and Jordyn are looking forward to marrying this summer.

"We just get on – everything is so easy," says Joe. "That's when you realise you're in the perfect situation. Everything really is perfect!"

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