Evan Lysacek heard about his wife — that was literally the word his friends used: “wife” — before he ever even met her.
This was about nine years ago and Lysacek had just won the Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating, making him one of the most famous athletes in the world. Lysacek’s friends Richard and Laurie Stark, of Chrome Hearts jewelry, were returning to Los Angeles. They had news to share.
“When they came home from Thailand, they said, ‘Oh we have to talk to you, come over,’ ” Lysacek recalled to PEOPLE recently. “So I went over to their house and I was nervous because I thought, Oh God, I hope nothing’s wrong. When someone says, ‘We need to talk,’ it sounds really serious.”
He needn’t have worried.
“So I got there and they were like, ‘We met your wife in Thailand,’ ” Lysacek says.
They weren’t kidding: While it may have taken nearly a decade, Lysacek, 34, and real-estate developer Dang Bodiratnangkura, 41, were married last Thursday in a splendid days-long celebration in her native Bangkok.
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“It was love at first sight,” says Lysacek, remembering how they met and the instant connection between them, which tugged them together across years and continents.
Speaking with PEOPLE shortly before the wedding, Lysacek traced the “saga” of their romance back to its start, after that first fateful mention of her name: a group dinner (“so she had padding, just in case”) at Il Piccolino in L.A., organized by another friend of Lysacek’s who just happened to be Bodiratnangkura’s cousin.
“I was the first person to arrive at the group dinner and Dang was the second person, and I was sitting at the table and I could feel her presence already when she walked in,” Lysacek says.
They talked and talked: about architecture, and travel, about food — about where they had gone and where there were their favorite spots to eat while they were there.
“For a couple of weeks, we were just inseparable,” Lysacek says.
And then they separated. If only for a while.
“I was already starting to train again for another Olympics and was about to go on tour for a long time, so the timing wasn’t great,” Lysacek says. “But we kept in touch and stayed friends, and I would always see her when I was in L.A., if I was out of business or visiting.”
In time, he transitioned out of his skating career and moved into fashion circles, including a stint with Vera Wang (and a turn on Dancing with the Stars.) Bodiratnangkura, a fourth-generation member of one of Thailand’s most famous families, works in real estate.
“Just about a year and a half ago, we had a long talk and she said, ‘Come to L.A. and visit sometime,’ ” Lysacek says. “And I said, ‘I’m going to come right now.’ “
Their life together started unfurling out in front of them.
“I went there the next weekend to see her and then we just said, ‘Do you think this would work if we try it?’ ” Lysacek recalls. “And we said yes and we didn’t look back from then on. It was so right and so easy. And that’s I think how we knew exactly that it was right, because it was so easy. And within a month, I knew that she was the one for sure. I took her last Thanksgiving and Christmas to meet my family in Chicago and spend time with them, and as soon as they met her they just were like, ‘She’s amazing, she’s perfect.’ “
The only bump, minor as it was, was finding the perfect ring.
Lysacek and Bodiratnangkura went looking last Thanksgiving (“I told my parents I wanted to propose already and they were like, ‘Yes, do it, go get a ring right now!’ “), but the one Lysacek wanted slipped out of the store with someone else before he could buy it. He searched and searched, thinking about a possible Christmas proposal, but fate did not oblige.
Then he got it for her in time for her birthday, in Miami, where she was on a trip with family.
“I did it there and I just have never been more sure of anything,” Lysacek says.
Eight months later, they married in Thailand, blending traditions from both of their worlds: first with a traditional Buddhist ceremony and then an American-style reception. They exchanged rings inscribed with 12.12 — the exact time they became husband and wife.
“Evan knows me better than anyone and always protects me in every sense of the word. I feel so loved, cared for and protected by him,” Bodiratnangkura says. “I’m marrying my best friend. I can’t wait to go through every step of life and love together.”
“She completes me,” Lysacek says of his new bride.
“Living life for so many years alone, you become independent and strong and like you can take on the world,” he says. “And now that we’re together it’s like, ‘God, I can’t imagine living even one second alone anymore without her.’ “