Olympic kayaker Mike Dawson met his fiancée Martina Wegman on the water and their relationship has been built around their shared love of sport, so it was only fitting that when he popped the question, it was in the middle of running the South Island's Coast to Coast race!
"It was at the top of the Goat Pass, right in the middle of the Southern Alps, which was pretty cool," laughs Tauranga-born adventurer Mike, 32.
"It helped that I had just injured my knee and Martina had to stay with me to help me down the other side – I didn't have to worry about losing her when I was planning to propose!"
Smiling, Dutch beauty Martina, 29, adds, "Before the race, I'd been training a lot for the canoe slalom season but had been recovering from being sick for over a month, so I hadn't done much to prepare for the Coast to Coast race. I knew it was going to be tough, but I told myself I wasn't going to cry. And then Mike proposed and I ended up crying!"
In the end, it was a happy yes from Martina, but the road to the adventurous proposal wasn't an easy one for Mike. Despite competing at the Olympics twice in slalom kayaking, the usually cool-headed athlete quickly discovered that finding the perfect engagement ring was a nerve-racking task.
"It was totally outside of my comfort zone to go ring shopping," he tells.
"I went quite a few times and I'd get really intimidated. The lady in the store would ask me what I was looking for and I would say, 'Nothing.' I actually ended up buying a watch one day! Eventually, I asked my sister and she came down to the shop in Tauranga to help choose the ring."
Then on the day of the race, things almost fell apart when Mike had to unpack his bag at a checkpoint.
"I had the ring sitting in the top of my bag ready to go," he recalls. "But the officials were doing safety-gear checks, so I had to empty my bag to show them everything next to Martina. I had to get it out without dropping or losing it! Luckily, she was so exhausted, she didn't spot it."
The athletic lovebirds first met in 2009 at the Extreme Kayak Worlds, and although Mike returned to New Zealand and Martina went home to the Netherlands, they continued to stay in touch.
When they crossed paths again eight months later at another competition in Colorado, romance began to blossom.
Mike admits, "I'd heard a lot about Martina being this bad-ass white-water chick running huge rapids around the world. But when we met, she was so quiet and humble."
Martina, meanwhile, was impressed with Mike's kayaking skills, but she never expected it would turn into anything romantic. She tells, "I remember when I was going to Colorado, I wasn't thinking we would be together, but it was awesome to get to know each other and here we are now!"
Mike laughs, "I must have wowed her!"
In recent years, the pair have been splitting their time between Prague and NZ.
"If my partner wasn't involved in sport, it would be quite hard because I spend so much time out of the country," explains Mike.
It's only since meeting her Kiwi love that Martina has taken up slalom at Olympic level. Initially, she started off doing extreme kayaking, a different sector of the sport.
"For about a year, I followed Mike around while he did his slalom races," tells Martina.
"I was basically hanging around and just getting super-bored watching him train. So I decided if we wanted to be together next year, I needed to be able to kayak as well as he did. I started training properly and he taught me how to race, then I got into the Dutch team and decided to do slalom – I love it!"
Mikes chips in proudly, "Now she's doing some of the best runs in the world. It's quite cool to be part of that and watching her grow in the sport in the past few years."
At the same time as preparing for their wedding in February next year, the couple are also working to ace the trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
"The Olympics is the goal and after that, we're going to reassess what we want to do for the rest of our lives," explains Martina. "We'll see if we want to keep going or do something else – or settle down and have a baby."
For now, they're just happy to have each other on this wild journey, with Martina adding, "It's hard to do this on your own, so we're pretty lucky."
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