A new year is always synonymous with new beginnings and for our BMX star Sarah Walker, the first day of 2019 marked the start of a romantic chapter, with the Olympic silver medallist tying the knot to love of her life Vin Elliott in a deeply personal and intimate ceremony.
High on the hills overlooking Cambridge, with a bike track visible in the background, Sarah and Vin exchange their vows after almost three years of dating.
Following on from their incredible first meeting on Valentine's Day in 2016, through to Vin's spectacular surprise mountaintop proposal in 2017, their wedding day certainly has a lot to live up to.
But as Sarah, 30, makes her way down the makeshift aisle towards Vin, 29, in her stunning Tanya Carlson gown, the groom bouncing on his heels with anticipation and tears welling in his eyes, their fairytale love story has its fitting finale.
The big day starts off with brilliant sunshine and a supremely relaxed vibe.
Arriving to her family friend Janette Mannell's home to get ready alongside her maid of honour, childhood mate Rebecca Avery, and bridesmaid, Dutch BMX champion Laura Smulders, Sarah bounds into the room with a huge grin.
"I've been playing Fortnite and paying water-rates bills," she laughs. "Everything's gone so well so far, which is actually stressing me out more – I'm used to things going wrong! Vin's a bit more stressed than me, but as long as the celebrant says what she needs to say and we sign the bit of paper, everything else is a bonus!"
Sarah is a relaxed bride indeed. In fact, at this moment, she has no idea what the bridesmaids' outfits will look like, doesn't know what kind of flowers her bouquets will have and tells her make-up artist to do whatever she thinks looks best. "I'm sure it'll all be fine!" she says casually.
However, the athlete has given a great deal of thought into what she'll be wearing and, along with some cute white sneakers (heels aren't her style), she slips into her gorgeous custom-made lace bodice and silk skirt, which Sarah and the Auckland designer came up with together.
"I've worked with Tanya for years and she knows what I like," Sarah tells. "We created something awesome and I'm so stoked with it!"
Last-minute make-up touch-ups done, Sarah's off to tie the knot near the site of the home she and Vin plan to build.
He explains, "We did that so we could spend more time with our guests after the ceremony and so we could have a moment that was just the two of us. She was just … Wow! It was a dream."
"He forgot to breathe," laughs Sarah. "Honestly, he turned around and he couldn't breathe properly! We're really stoked we did that. It was really special."
Meanwhile, the pair's 85 guests have been ferried up the hills to Sarah and Vin's awe-inspiring ceremony location.
A vast marquee has been erected, where guests will later feast on pizza and ice cream, plus a makeshift white dance floor has been built on the slope. And right at the hill's edge sits a simple wooden frame, under which the pair will marry.
As their family and friends sip on slushies to combat the intense heat, the bridal party arrives and a visibly excited Vin takes his position at the altar, flanked by best man Toby Chapman-Smith and groomsman Mark Macleod.
The bridesmaids take their place, then both sets of parents – Tom and Christine Elliott, and Sue and Graham Walker – also walk down the aisle as a special tribute to their combined 64 years of marriage.
Finally, it's time for Sarah to make the journey herself and after a few moments of panic where she can't find her bouquet, eventually locating it in the bridesmaids' car, she emerges from behind the bridal ute.
To the strains of John Legend's "All of Me", she makes her way to her groom, who looks handsome in a Working Style suit. Smiling, Sarah later recalls, "I didn't really see many people when I was walking down – I was just looking at Vin."
Her longtime pal David "DG" Galbraith welcomes their guests, before paying tribute to Sarah's unwavering bravery. "I don't think I've ever met anyone as courageous as this woman," enthuses DG. "The amount of courage that's needed to achieve what this woman has done is remarkable.
"And I want to acknowledge something in Vin – well done! It was going to take a hell of a man to work this woman out and understand that it wasn't about working her out … It was your role to walk beside her and live your life with confidence, ambition and adventure – and you're ready for an adventure that will see you spend hours in A&E wards, with X-rays, MRIs and broken bones!"
Family friend Janette, who recertified as a celebrant just for Sarah and Vin's special day, then takes over for the ceremony's formalities and invites the couple to share their personal vows to each other.
It's at this moment, with his vows in front of him, that the day overwhelms Vin. However, after a few minutes of trying to compose himself, some deep breathing and a few happy tears, he finally manages to get his vows out.
Amid much laughter, he exclaims, "Sarah, I've just about used up every single descriptive word to express how much I love you. I'm unconditionally in love with you, I'm so excited and it brings me so much happiness to marry you today. Oh, this is too much!
"You are my closest and dearest friend, my amazing lover and my ultimate PlayStation partner. I promise my everlasting devotion, respect, loyalty, my love and to be faithful to you for a lifetime. I promise to strive to be the best I can be and to continue to work on my self-awareness each day.
"No matter what challenging times we face together, I know the foundations we built will stand strong. Sarah, you're wise far beyond your years. You are warm and loving, courageous and strong, understanding and supportive, passionate and determined. My prayers have been answered. I love you, Sarah. We've got this!"
Finishing up, sales executive Vin turns to the guests and adds, "Oh, struggle street, seriously, that was hard to do!"
Grinning, his bride remarks drily, "It's alright – we couldn't tell."
Slightly more composed in her vows, Sarah pledges to encourage Vin's compassion and sincerity, and to believe in the person Vin is now and the person he will grow to be.
"I promise to love myself as much as I love you and to never expect you to complete me. I hope you can promise me the same as we can never truly love each other unless we can love ourselves.
"I promise to recognise your strengths and see your potential, especially when you can't see it yourself. You give me such love on a daily basis and you're more amazing than you realise. I promise to celebrate your success and support you in failure. The only way we can know is to give it all we have.
"We don't know what the future will bring, but we will face the future with courage and optimism. I promise to be your partner because it's not just my life or yours – it's ours. So, till death do us part, I promise to live more and fear less because life is for living, and our life is and will be extraordinary."
After they exchange rings – the bride's is from Partridge Jewellers, which also loaned her earrings and a necklace – Sarah Louise Walker and Vincent Garry Elliott are proclaimed husband and wife, sealing the deal with a passionate kiss as their guests toast them with champagne to the tune of "High" by the Lighthouse Family.
"We just feel so content," Vin tells us. "I'm really happy, but the vows were hard! It's such a significant and emotional thing. I didn't expect that at all. But I didn't really care how long it took to say it – I just wanted to say it."
With the formalities over, the newlyweds join their guests for their hilltop party.
"We wanted to have it somewhere unique – there's never been a wedding up here before," the groom explains. "We both love the outdoors and it's close to home … and you can see the BMX track!"
Before tucking into wood-fired pizza and soft-serve cones, and performing their first dance to James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go", the pair have a few minutes to themselves and agree it's already been the best day of their lives.
"We feel like we've been husband and wife for a while now," Sarah smiles. "Now Vin's just going to have to get used to wearing his ring!"
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