Weddings

Rugby stars Pita Ahki and Kayla McAlister’s dream wedding

Pita proposed to his love after only six months of dating. But as former All Black Keven Mealamu told him, "When you know, you know."

By Kelly Bertrand

Standing under the dappled light of a forest canopy, the trees gently rustling in the breeze, New Zealand rugby sevens great Pita Ahki is nervous.

As the first strains of "Endless Love" play, the former Blues star has just spotted his beautiful bride, women's sevens star Kayla McAlister, 29, clambering out of an old farm truck at the end of the make-shift aisle at Jonkers Farm in Auckland's rugged west coast.

As she heads for the groom, clinging to her dad Charlie's arm while navigating the uneven ground, Pita, 25, wipes away a tear.

"I was pretty emotional," the star athlete admits. "I tried not to look at her while she walked towards me, but it was hard not to because she looked so amazing."

Although the talented couple have been planning their dream wedding for three years, it took only six months after they began dating for them to both realise they'd found "the one" – in a West Auckland pub, no less!

"I was 24 and he was 20," remembers Kayla, who has also played netball for the Northern Mystics.

"I thought he was the same age as me! I knew a guy he was with, so I went up to our mutual friend and asked, 'Who's your mate?'"

It was only after their chance meeting that Pita and Kayla – who are now proud parents to seven-month-old Stella – realised they were both rugby players.

Just a few months later, they both headed to the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup in Russia, where the men's and women's teams both won gold.

After remaining friends for a few months, they began dating in November that year and by May 2014, Pita knew there was an important question he wanted to ask. He turned to a rugby legend for some advice.

"I was playing for the Blues at the time and I was talking to some of the boys about it, but the guy who really helped me out a lot was [former All Black] Keven Mealamu," tells Pita.

"I asked, 'What if you've only known a girl for a short amount of time? Is it too soon?' Keven said, 'When you know, you know.' And I did! Four or five weeks later, I proposed."

Since then, life for Pita and Kayla has been spent balancing their sporting careers, raising their beloved Stella and saving for their wedding.

And with that day finally here, Kayla looks stunning in her ivory lace Kellylin Couture gown, drawing gasps from her 150 guests. Joining her groom at the altar, the radiant bride beams at Pita, who grins right back.

"I was feeling pretty calm in the morning, which isn't like me!" admits Kayla. "But walking down the aisle, I was very nervous and emotional. It was a special feeling having Dad walk me down too."

Pastor Onosai Auva'a welcomes Pita and Kayla's friends and family, and makes special mention of Stella, who's in the arms of her grandmother Trish, a bright purple leg cast sticking out from under her pretty white frock following a wee tumble the week before.

"To Stella, their cherished daughter, this is the day your Mum and Dad declare their love," says Onosai. "Although you'll be too young to remember this occasion, in years to come, you'll look back and discover you're very much a part of this relationship."

Onosai offers some words of encouragement to the bride and groom, saying that giving in a marriage should always outweigh receiving and that love is commitment over emotion.

Pita and Kayla promise to give each other their deepest friendship and love, not only when they're feeling bright, but also when they're feeling down.

They vow to love and comfort each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, honouring and being faithful to each other.

"I love you," declares Pita. "You're the one person I share my whole world with, and I promise to trust you and cherish every day together."

"I've fallen in love with you again and again," says Kayla.

"I still can't believe that today, I get to marry you. I promise to be true to you, love you, support you and frustrate you – and someday, if the stars align, I might even let you win an argument."

After exchanging rings, the pair are announced as Mr and Mrs Ahki – "such a surreal and cool feeling", smiles Kayla – before walking back up the aisle to R. Kelly's She's Got that Vibe.

Guests head to a fun-filled marquee reception, feasting on a spit roast before dancing the night away to a live band.

The happy couple – who are currently based in Ireland for Pita's rugby career and are due to return to the Northern Hemisphere days after the nuptials – take the chance to catch up with as many family and friends as possible.

"We can't believe we're husband and wife now," tells Pita. "It's the start of a new chapter for our little family, with us heading overseas. The timing couldn't have been more perfect."

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