Ten years ago, when Rachelle Friedman Chapman was paralyzed from the chest down after being playfully pushed into a pool at her bachelorette party, she knew most things had changed.
“When I had my spinal cord injury, everything was uncertain, except one thing — our love story was not over.”
That’s what she reiterated Thursday to her husband, Chris Chapman, as they renewed their vows to celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
The renewal ceremony — witnessed by about 25 family and friends — took place on a breezy night at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. Against a backdrop of fields, cows lazily grazing and a silo stretching toward the evening sky, Rachelle and Chris honored 10 years of marriage and looked forward to the rest of their lives together.
Rachelle said the celebration was not just for them but for their daughter, for family and friends, and for the many people who have followed her story since the “paralyzed bride” national headlines.
They delayed their wedding by a year after Rachelle’s injury occurred, then tied the knot in a wedding at Fearrington Village — “on a sweatier day than today,” recalled Cynthia Wooten, who officiated Thursday’s ceremony.
At the first wedding, some doubted whether their marriage could stand the test of Rachelle’s injury.
“There were a lot of people who wondered, ‘Are they going to make it? Is that even possible? Sure, they’re getting married now, but is it going to last?’” Rachelle said.
A fake online news story
And a few years ago, people started reaching out after a fake news article appeared online that said, “Paralyzed bride getting divorced, husband leaving her.”
“So people started messaging us like, ‘Are you OK?’” Rachelle recalled. “And we were like, ‘Of course, what’s going on?’
“So this is for all the people who believed in us — we kind of restored their faith in love in the beginning, and we want to say we’re still here,” she continued. “True love really does exist.”
During Thursday’s ceremony, Wooten acknowledged that the circumstances of their marriage might have been harder for another couple to deal with. “You’ve managed to transcend what might bury another couple, because you’ve kept your love and sense of humor intact,” she said.
Throughout the ceremony, the couple — who live in Knightdale — often joked around with each other.
“Rachelle, do you intend to keep going through the come-what-may’s with Chris as your husband, just as you have for the past 10 years?” Wooten asked.
“Sure, yeah,” Rachelle responded nonchalantly, and the crowd laughed.
Rachelle wore a white dress — specially designed to open in the back so that she could put it on — and held a colorful bouquet of sunflowers and wildflowers. Flowers also adorned her hair and the wheels of her wheelchair. The couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Kaylee — who was born through a surrogate — was the flower girl.
‘Our love was always easy’
After the couple renewed their vows, Kaylee joined them for the ring exchange. Rachelle and Chris exchanged rings, then they both gave a ring to Kaylee, who sat beaming on her mother’s lap.
Last year, when Rachelle lost the diamond of her engagement ring, she reached out to Raleigh’s Diamonds Direct jewelry store about replacing it. “Not only did they replace it, but upgraded it, and helped us throw this whole thing,” Rachelle said.
Raising Kaylee has sometimes been difficult because of Rachelle’s injury, she said.
“But you just figure it out. It just takes a lot of trial and error,” Rachelle said. “She loves rides on my lap and hanging out with me, and I’m the one who puts her to bed every night.”
As Rachelle said to Chris during their vows, “No matter how hard life got, our love was always easy.”